Tennessee's House Of Representatives Opposes Backcountry Fee At Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In its biggest political coup to date, a group fighting the backcountry fees charged at Great Smoky Mountains National Park has gotten the backing of the Tennessee State House of Representatives.

In a proclamation adopted April 9, the House expressed its "opposition to the imposition of any backcountry camping fees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that are not directly associated with the use of amenities or a commercial purpose and strongly urge an immediate appeal of any such imposed fee."

Previously, the Knox County (Tennessee) Commission, as well the commissions in Bradley and Blount counties in Tennessee and Swain County in North Carolina, condemned the fee and called for its repeal.

The backcountry fee of $4 per night per person, with a $20 per person cap per trip, took effect February 13. It is intended by park officials to help streamline and improve the backcountry permitting process and heighten the presence of rangers in the backcountry.

Pinched by an inadequate budget and unable to charge an entrance fee for any of the roughly 9 million yearly visitors, park officials say they see no way of improving visitor services and protecting backcountry resources without charging users who spend the night in the woods.

The park can't charge an entrance fee because the state of Tennessee, when it agreed to transfer land to the federal government for the park, essentially forbade it.

"By condemning and calling for a repeal of this hugely unpopular and specious tax on backcountry users, the State of Tennessee has proven its intent to provide a voice for citizens that was ignored by the National Park Service as evidenced in the public comments that tallied 18-1 in opposition to the fee," said a statement from Southern Forest Watch, a non-profit group organized to lobby for the fee's repeal.

Comments

mtnhiker

SEC. 3. RECREATION FEE AUTHORITY.
3(a) Authority of Secretary.--Beginning in fiscal year 2005 and thereafter, the
Secretary may establish, modify, charge, and collect recreation fees at Federal
recreational lands and waters as provided for in this section.
3(b) Basis for Recreation Fees.--Recreation fees shall be established in a manner
consistent with the following criteria:
3(b)(1) The amount of the recreation fee shall be commensurate with the benefits
and services provided to the visitor.
3(b)(2) The Secretary shall consider the aggregate effect of recreation fees on
recreation users and recreation service providers.
3(b)(3) The Secretary shall consider comparable fees charged elsewhere and by
other public agencies and by nearby private sector operators.
3(b)(4) The Secretary shall consider the public policy or management objectives
served by the recreation fee.
3(b)(5) The Secretary shall obtain input from the appropriate Recreation Resource
Advisory Committee, as provided in section 4(d).

There is no evidence that Ditmanson obtained input from the RRAC. See sec 3(b)(5). That is a starter. This is from the NPS FLREA code found here. http://www.nps.gov/training/tel/Guides/FLRA_Interagency_REA_Handbook_11.17.05.pdf

and also, this: 3(d)(1)(E) For camping at undeveloped sites that do not provide a minimum
number of facilities and services as described in subsection (g)(2)(A).

3(d)(3)(E) Entrance on other routes into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
or any part thereof unless fees are charged for entrance into that park on main
highways and thoroughfares.

That is a curious piece of language, huh?

SmokiesBackpacker -

If the staff is so determined to get the public out of the backcountry, as you keep insisting, why was so much time and effort spent reopening the trails and one of the two campsites damaged by the tornado? The extent of that damage would have provided a good excuse to write those areas off. Sorry, your claim just isn't supported by all this work.

...one of the two campsites? Funny. They don't want people camping in the backcountry. That is evident. Daywalkers are okay. Backcountry camping? Not so much.

SmokiesBackpacker - why is it they don't want people camping in the backcountry? I'm not sure I understand this point. I often get a vague feeling nps doesn't really like it, but I can't say why. I also even more often get the feeling nps doesnt like Wilderness. So often the rangers will look at me like I really don't know what I am getting into, or maybe really don't know what it's all about. It's like they just don't like the idea. In general terms they seem much more enthusiastic about me watching the park movie. But you seem VERY much set on this idea that they don't want us out there, so I would like to know why.

For the record, I just paid $5 for a permit at Big South Fork NRA and the ranger that got that filled it out for me was very cool. Helpful and knowledgable. first hand type knowledge too....she knew her stuff. Having said that, I still find that i am bothered by backcountry fees because it seems so low impact compared to all other uses except day hiking. But then again, tent camping, pooping, peeing, washing, fire building, cooking, and hanging things from trees does add up, even when practicing LNT. But that is also at the absolute core of our Parks so it seems like it should be already be covered. Of course horse travel is also at the core but there is no way that is as low impact as foot travel. And you could also argue that a 3 day backpacker has less impact than a day hiker driving to and from a trailhead 6 or more times in that same timeframe.

Im on the fence on this, leaning more to the side of backcountry fees being not a good thing.

Scott,

Having backpacking in BSF, I can tell you that the attitude there is different. Of course GRSM is bigger. However, backcountry camping has been on the decline in the Smokies since the 90s. Also, I saw a study that showed that the impact from backcountry campers was negligible. However, this particular study shows that these fees decrease access to the backcountry. I maintain that the backcountry needs to be accessible to boy scout groups, church groups, 20 somethings etc and a $4 fee will be $25 in 10 years., just look at other parks that have allowed this. http://www.westernslopenofee.org/pdfuploads/Fee_Policy_White_Paper.pdf

Horses don't pay a fee and one horse does the damage of 100 hikers. Perhaps more. Horse folks don't backpack. Why would you when you can do 30 miles in a day. The NPS attitude is that humans are the problem in the backcountry. I maintain that humans are the problem on the roads through newfound gap etc. All that money on roads and visitor centers and they target backpackers? It is the epitome of injustice. And we all know why they are targeting backpackers. Because they can. The permit system provides the "vehicle" for revenue generation. Its shooting fish in a barrel. Plus, the NPS likes to treat backcountry campers like undeducated boobs. Shelter stayers are boobs sometimes but backcountry campers don't go out unless they have some modicum of understanding of what they are getting into. Just look at the virtually non existent rescues of tent campers in the Smokies. Every rescue involves some Leconte dayhiker or a shelter stayer. I can only think of one tent camping rescue in the last decade.

They are deed restricted from charging an entrance fee so Ditmanson said, "lookie here, I know how I can raise a quarter million a year!" That is, coincidentally, the amt he makes per year.

SmokiesBackpacker -- You stated: "There is no evidence that Ditmanson obtained input from the RRAC. See sec 3(b)(5). That is a starter. This is from the NPS FLREA code found here."

Okay. I can go with that as a possibility. I have no idea about what he did/did not do regarding the Recreation Resource Advisory Committee. If this is proven to be the case, though, I would think it would trigger Ditmanson' being reprimanded by higher ups and/or starting the reservations systems fee approval process all over again. So, ultimately, GSMNP is likely to end up with a backcountry reservations system and associated fee for that system anyway, because the fee for a reservation system is not illegal. In fact, FLREA states it is indeed legal.

SmokiesBackpacker, you stated: "Horses don't pay a fee and one horse does the damage of 100 hikers. Perhaps more. Horse folks don't backpack. Why would you when you can do 30 miles in a day."

Horseback riders pay a fee to camp overnight, just like every other overnight camper. The horse camp fees are clearly stated on the GSMNP here: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/horsecamps.htm#CP_JUMP_148875

Also, while its true that horseback riders technically don't "backpack" they are often involved in horse packing. Horses are used as pack animals along with burros, mules, and llamas. That's true in numerous national parks across the nation, not just GSMNP. Some of the folks involved in horse packing are the "Back Country Horsemen of America" group, including numerous state and local area chapters like "Back Country Horsemen of North Carolina" and "Back Country Horsemen of East Tennessee" and "Back Country Horsemen of Pisgah Chapter" and "Back Country Horsemen Great Smoky Mountain Chapter." They not only use the trails and ride or horse pack on overnight trips, they also assist in maintaining the horse trails.

ADDED: Well, well, just found this related article on backcountry packing in GSMNP with horses and other pack animals. It was posted last year by Jim Burnett (who is also posting on this thread):

Minimum Impact Stock Use Training at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2012/07/minimum-impact-stock-use-training-great-smoky-mountains-national-park10283

Given new facts, I could change my mind on this. But as of today, my opinion is that the only way to get rid of backcountry reservations fees is to get rid of FLREA. Because FLREA is the very legislation which enables GSMNP and all the other national parks to enact a fee for their respective reservation systems.

For what it's worth, FLREA is up for renewal this year, I believe.

Kurt Repanshek -- thanks. It would be worth seeing what congress does with FLREA this year. Does anyone posting here have further insight on that?

FLREA expires December 8, 2014.

The only news lately was to amend FLREA to include COE. (http://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/400). It has been introduced and referred to committee.

H.R. 1068 has passed the house, but it only relates to NPS and it is really just to clarify current law, not make any changes. Here is a summary: "This bill makes technical and clarifying changes and consolidations to Title 54 of the U.S. Code, which deals with the National Park Service and enacts it as positive law. Over past 150 years or so, numerous laws have been enacted that relate to the National Park System. Many of these laws are spread throughout the title 16 of the U.S. Code, rather than being referenced in one location. This has made the Code relatively difficult to use as it relates to the National Park Service. This bill would help alleviate the issue by reclassifying all of these laws as a new title of the Code, allowing them to be more easily referenced."

dahkota -- Thanks for your clarification. Much appreciated.

Mtnhiker,

One more thing. Ditmanson added a clause to the new backcountry fee which stipulated that no one may spend more than 60 nights per calendar year in the backcountry of the Smokies. I am interested to see his explanation for that as I believe there exists no similar restriction on front country campers in the Smokies. I am not certain but haven't been able to locate that restriction. He wants tourists to visit the Smokies from other places but locals are the ones who will be impacted by the enforcement of this new 60 day restriction on backcountry camping in his park. Per the park's own data, there are less than 2 campers per campsite per night. This is in campsites rated for 12 and sometimes more backpackers. Things that make you go hmmm. (Of course we locals know the drive for this. His buddy buddy guide service concessionaires are the driving force here. They were upset because Appalachian Trail thru hikers were clogging up the shelters during March and April and the guides couldn't get shelter space. Initially the proposal was to charge for shelters only but Ditmanson decided why charge just for shelters when we can charge for the entire, mostly empty, backcountry to boot!)

SmokiesBackpacker -- Hmmm. I didn't know about the 60-night limit, but I haven't seen it documented anywhere. Maybe I missed it, but I couldn't find any reference to it and I looked in 3 places one would think it should be listed:

- Here (Regs) http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-regs.htm

- Here (Permits) https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/index.cfm?BCPermitTypeID=1

- Here (Reservations system page -- couldn't get the link to work work)

I have to wonder how could they enforce a limit on the public when the public isn't even informed of the restriction? Are you sure its being implemented? (That is, has someone tried to reserve 61+ days in the backcountry and been denied?)

I do know other national parks have annual limits on backcountry use. For instance Redwood limits backcountry stays to no more than 15 nights per year total. I believe Rocky Mountain National Park has a 21-night per year limit on backcountry camping.

Some interesting information above, and for sake of worthwhile discussion it would be helpful to have some clarification on the following:

1. "Per the park's own data, there are less than 2 campers per campsite per night. This is in campsites rated for 12 and sometimes more backpackers."

This number needs some explanation to be useful. Is that "2 campers per campsite per night" an average for the year, or whatever is considered the camping season, or what? If it's an average for the year, that could easily mean there are some nights with few or no campers and some nights when sites are often full or nearly so.

A few more details on "less than 2 campers per night" are essential to understanding that statistic.

2. Is there any documented information about whether campsites are ever full or nearly so during the year? If so, how many nights? That would seem to be basic for justifying a reservation system.

3. Where is the 60-night limit on backcountry camping stated as a regulation? I agree with Mountain Hiker; it would seem to be hard to enforce if it isn't information that's made readily available to the public.

"11. Will there be a change to the annual maximum number of nights one can stay in the backcountry?

The park regulation limiting overnight backcountry stays to 30 nights per trip and 60 nights per year will not change. Permits may be obtained for up to 7 nights. Additional permits may be obtained for those wanting to camp more than 7 nights at one time."

http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/bc-reservation-permit-faq.htm

It seems the limit was in place before the fee was instituted.

Also, under regulations:

"Maximum party size is 8. Two parties affiliated with the same group may not stay in the same campsite or at the same shelter on the same night(s). Special permits may be issued for a few sites that accommodate parties of up to 12."

A campsite can hold 8 but not all hiking groups are of 8. The "less than two campers per campsite per night" is also meaningless in that it does not have any relation to the number of booked sites. For example, if you have 20 sites, one night might have 40 individuals (average 2 per site) and the next night 100 individuals (average 5 per site). The number of campers doesn't tell you how many sites are booked. In either case, it could be all sites.

Jim,

Here is some of the data released by the NPS prior to implementation of the backcountry fee initiative: It includes shelters and all the other sites that are empty most of the time if you break it down. Remove the shelters from the equation and it changes the whole view of the "overcrowded" backcountry.

http://www.southernhighlanders.com/campsitedata.html

dahkota -- Thank you for the reference to http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/bc-reservation-permit-faq.htm which states "The park regulation limiting overnight backcountry stays to 30 nights per trip and 60 nights per year will not change."

Now I'm wondering when that regulation was put in place -- 2 years ago? 10 years ago? Longer? -- since it pre-dates the current reservation system.

Also, I'm really wondering why this restriction is so "hidden" on the website. IMHO, this should be clearly showing on the pages where one would normally go to learn how to reserve sites for a backcountry trip. Seems to me, at a minimum, it should be clearly presented both here http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/backcountry-regs.htm and https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/index.cfm?BCPermitTypeID=1 or possibly linked to from here http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/bc-things2know.htm . But it isn't (that I can see) so it sure is hidden from the average website user.

Thanks - those details on backcountry site use are certainly more useful than an annual average. As one might expect, use is seasonal and varies a lot among sites, but you are correct in stating that based on this data, for quite a few sites it's hard to see any sign of high demand. The referenced chart unfortunately doesn't show how many (if any) nights that any sites are "full."

Given the number of sites and the large geographical area, it shouldn't be a big surprise that a lot of detailed information doesn't seem to be available on this subject. It would be a very labor-intensive process to try to gather actual use data on a nightly basis for even the most popular sites.

I haven't looked to see how long backcountry permits have been issued, but perhaps the easiest estimate of use would be for someone to go back over several years of permits and compile a chart of permits issued per site per night. Sounds like a good project for a professional paper for a student :-) Perhaps that's already been done.

re: the limits on backcountry camping to "not more than 30 consecutive days in the backcountry or 60 days total in a one year period." That doesn't seem unduly restrictive, and would allow, for example, someone to make a weekend backcountry camping trip every weekend for 30 weekends a year, or camp for a full week at various sites over 8 weeks a year, and still have a few days left over.

I'd think the idea is to keep someone from becoming a long-term seasonal "resident" of the backcountry, and that's not unreasonable in a national park. Anybody fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend more time than that in the backcountry can do so in very similar terrain and scenery - and at no cost - in the nearby Pisgah National Forest.

As to limits on stays in front-country campgrounds in the park, "No person or their equipment shall occupy a campground for more than (14) fourteen consecutive days. Long periods of stay are inconsistent with the management of public campgrounds, which are intended to provide a short-term national park camping experience to all interested visitors."

You'll find that information, along with the 30 and 60 day limits for the backcountry, on page 8 of the park's "compendium of regulations." There's a link on this page on the park website: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/lawsandpolicies.htm

Just a point of clarification. When a national park justifies a reservation system, is it required to prove "high demand" in order to put the reservation system in place?

The FAQs (thanks again dahkota for finding those) list improvements to customer service, not high demand, as basically the raison d'être for the new system. (Again, see http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/bc-reservation-permit-faq.htm )

Seems to me that everything is going digital. Manual systems are, by comparison, archaic and time-consuming for staff to maintain. So, from a park management perspective, I would also think an online system is also preferable for ease of use, efficiency, and best use of park ranger/park staff time.

Mtnliving - thanks for reference to http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/lawsandpolicies.htm

And I agree with you, a 60-day limit does not seem unduly restrictive IMHO. I can well understand that the national parks don't want people moving in and living there for months at a time. Portions of Pisgah National Forest seem to have a homeless population (in the Brevard NC area, for instance, where the homeless have essentially made that National Forest their year round home).

I think the "less than 2 campers per night" comes from this:

"Backcountry Campsites
More than 100 sites, including shelters. More than 77,000 overnight visits per year."

http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parkmgmt/statistics.htm

(77,000/100)/365=2.1 (average 770 back country visitors per site per year divided by number of days per year).

Looking at the numbers posted by SmokiesBackpacker, it is readily evident that some months are a lot less crowded than others. Some sites, at the height of summer, have an average of 8-12 per day, some in winter have 0 per day.

Overall, the backcountry doesn't seem to be crowded and during certain times of the year, it is not. However, during peak travel time (April-October), it can get pretty busy back there.

I went into the reservation system just to see how it worked. There are sites and shelters that are very heavily booked for the next thirty days, particularly weekends. The benefit of this system is that, since I hate crowds, I can find a campsite that doesn't have 7-11 other people already booked there and plan my trip accordingly. I can also see which campsites are already fully booked rather than having to find out at the last minute that my plans need to change. For me it's a win and worth the $4 per night.

So, low campsite demand isn't a justification for a fee, and public input isn't a justification for a fee and adherence to the adminstrative procedures act isn't relevant and restricting usage of public lands to a proscribed number of nights is irrelevant and telling people when they sign off on their permit they can't burn paper or wood bigger than your wrist are all just normal requests. Oh, also, you have to have a printer, a credit card and internet access to go through all this bureaucratic red tape. Really? All to justify charging people for what was a perfectly simple, walk to the trailhead and fill out a permit system. Only the federal govt could employ multiple layers of bureaucracy and charge citizens for the privilege despite their wishes to the contrary. It may be okay for those of you who never come down here but it is stupid, unnecessary and unwanted. Those facts are undeniable. Seeing how many people are in a campsite is a safety issue for parking your car at a trailhead in my opinion. Not to mention the likelihood of compromising your credit card. No, I'm sorry. No arguments here have moved me in any position. Again, public input is irrelevant, multiple counties and the Tn state legislature call for repeal and folks here still disagree. The votes are in. Fee is improperly vetted, misrepresented by Ditmanson and challenged in court.

As dahkota notes above and previous comments have noted, there are advantages of this system for those who want to be assured of having a site during busier seasons of the year or at the more popular locations, or who would prefer to pick a spot that will be less crowded. None of those are possible with a "fill out a permit at the trailhead system."

That said, it seems pretty clear reservations are not needed for much of the year at quite a few sites. Is there a way to satisfy all of those conflicting needs and opinions? No easy answers.

SmokiesBackpacker -- I'm not trying to change your position. I'm trying to understand what makes this reservation system and its fee illegal -- that is, what the clear legal basis is for a lawsuit.

That's why I ask what justification is required (legally, such as per FLREA) to move to an online reservation system. From what I can tell so far, it seems to me (1) its not illegal; and (2) the justification and benefit is in improvements to customer service. For instance, the benefits dahkota already mentioned ("I can find a campsite that doesn't have 7-11 other people already booked there and plan my trip accordingly. I can also see which campsites are already fully booked rather than having to find out at the last minute that my plans need to change. For me it's a win and worth the $4 per night.") plus this system is available 24/7 (very convenient); you don't have to drive from wherever and wait until the day you arrive to find that the site(s) or shelther(s) you want are already booked. If you don't have a computer, laptop or smart phone, you can call the office and do it over the phone.

I don't see that limiting overnight camping to a certain number of consecutive nights or a certain number of nights per year is illegal either. It's already done in other national parks. GSMNP isn't the first. And I can see that its not in keeping with either the spirit of the national parks nor the mission to have people moving in and living there year round. The parks were intended as a place for citizens to experience temporary recreation and retreat, not a long-term living arrangement.

I can see that the locals don't care for this reservation system, but the park doesn't belong to just the locals and it doesn't serve just the locals. The park belongs to all citizens in America and so upgrades to its systems and services should serve everyone, to the extent possible. If this new system is found by the courts to be illegal, then I will be the first to admit I'm wrong. But to date, while I see that some don't like it, I can't see what is illegal about it.

And as long as some folks feel that their "facts" are undeniable, but that other people's "facts" are, there isn't going to be much wiggle on this. Add it to the list of unsolvable internet arguments like abortion and circumcision and spend your emotional calories elsewhere.

Rick,I had a good laugh over your post.But it really is so true!

Rick,

What is really on trial here is whether or not the desires of the citizenry have any place in NPS decision making. If you will remember, the genesis of the argument is a proclamation by the TN House of Representatives condeming and calling for a repeal of this "tax". Similarly, three other counties have done the same in addition to the public comments which are 18-1 rejecting this fee. I see a lot of folks here arguing for the fee but their voices were strangely absent when it counted, during the public comment period. Either that means that they weren't aware of the shortened public comment period or didn't care at the time. The NPS can and will do as it pleases despite objections of the public. That is the issue, not all the flimsy justifications presented by the NPS to charge citizens to sleep on unimproved ground through a system that is unnecessary and cumbersome. It will be interesting to see the NPS on trial, answering for their misrepresentations. I sincerely look forward to the wriggling of those who may be deposed.

I have to admit, I always thought that a trial (in this nation, anyway) is based on what is legal. (Which is why I keep asking what is illegal about the reservation system and its fee.)

fwiw, I'm not arguing for the fee. I'm trying to understand what makes it illegal. Lawsuits are based on laws and legality, not personal opinion.

If the legal basis of the current lawsuit is "desires of the citizenry," then I have to ask does FLREA legally mandate that a certain percentage of the United States citizens be contacted for their opinions? Does FLREA require the national park system to tally the "vote," identify what the majority of U.S. citizens request, and then act only as the majority of citizens have voted? And if not FLREA, is there another legal document which requires this?

I realize local counties have "skin in the game" for their share of tourism dollars. And GSMNP represents a huge tourism industry for all counties that surround it, in particular the counties where the roads leading to main entrances are located. I also realize descendants of people who once owned that land in NC and TN (now in GSMNP) have a unique position regarding this park and their free entry to the park, because their land was taken against their will by the U.S. government (be they settlers who lived there a couple hundred years or the indigenous people who lived there for thousands of years).

In terms of this lawsuit, regardless of who has what like or dislike or preference or opinion, doesn't it come down to whether or not some law/legislation/legal agreement has been broken, thus rendering this reservation system and its fee illegal?

MtnHiker,

With regard to legality I am betting that Ditmanson did not properly follow the administrative procedures act in vetting the fee and his lack of consulting the RR advisory board will play into this. Does his misrepresentation of congressional support matter? I don't know from a legal standpoint if it does or doesnt. Regarding the interpretation of FLREA and their ability to charge this fee under the expanded FLREA, you seem to have as good a grasp as the rest of us now. That will be one of the questions in this lawsuit. If you read the lawsuit, there are several charges outside of the FLREA stuff. Part of it refers to the park service organic act as well.

In reading over the lawsuit, I noted that there were many places where the "plaintiffs" had either bad information or were mis-informed. They also make many allegations which they will have to prove.

It will be interesting to see if it goes anywhere and I won't be surprised if lawyers for "the defense" move to have the case dismissed.

Dahkota, what sections are you referring to where there is "bad information".

Sticking in my head at this moment, some of the back country permit history, the 60 day limit. They also make completely unrelated allegations which will be not allowed if it goes to trial as it has no relation to their lawsuit. They kind of threw the baby in (and out) with the bath water so to speak; it seems as if they threw a lot of crap at the wall, hoping some would stick. Unfortunately, that doesn't often work. They have a bunch of points. I will go through it tomorrow and point out the troubling sections if you like.

Honestly, I have no dog in this fight. I love the NPS and GSMNP. I voluntarily donate money to them. I have no problem paying the fee. If it gets rescinded, they will still get my money. And while I am not immediately local, I am close enough to visit a couple of times a year for extended periods (my local parks are Shendandoah and Assateague). I understand, in a limited sense, why some would be against it; I just don't think the reasoning here is sound. But, that is just my opinion. ymmv...

I am interested in your opinion. I find several of the allegations in the lawsuit very troubling in that it indicates a high degree of political patronage and cronyism. You can bet it has riled a lot of feathers in the political world. I'm no lawyer so it should be fun to watch play out.

I've been absent from comments for a while now because I grew weary of the same old arguements from the same folks on it seems like every issue brought up on this site. I have been reading and have followed much of the banter without commenting. I think I will wade in a little on this one.

mountainhiker, unfortunately lawsuits in this country do not have to be based on whether something is legal or not. Anyone can sue anyone else (or any entity) for any reason they feel like whether it has legal merit or not. Thus our country, and particularly our government agencies, spend a tremendous amount of time and money fighting lawsuits that obviously have no chance in hades of being won just because someone feels that their right to do what they want, when they want, where they want and without any fees or restrictions is being infringed. Perhaps we should take some of the European models where those who bring lawsuits are on the hook for the expenses of the court and the winning party if they lose. That might stop some of this type of legal action.

I do visit national parks frequently over the course of a year and think that the fees I pay for entrance, camping and yes, backcountry camping, give me a great bargin. Heck, I pay $12 to go suffer through a 2 hour uninspired movie at the theater. I think $4 per night to be able to camp in the backcountry of my 600,000 acre national park (one of more that 400 I can visit)is quite a bargin. I spend a lot more than that in gas just to get there. My parents lived in Gatlinburg for over 10 years and I have hiked most of the trails in GSMNP in my 50 plus years of vacationing and living there. This fee is a small price for a service that has been rightly argued here to benefit everyone who wants to camp in the backcountry in this park. To quibble over such a small fee is petty. The locals who see it as an imposition have lost sight of the fact that they are fortunate indeed to live near this park. The closest park to where I live charges me $10 per visit (although I buy an annual pass so the cost per visit is lower as long as I go more than 8 times per year) and then a fee if I want to camp. And the assertion that there are no amenities given to backcountry campers depends on why you enjoy backcountry camping. The amenities I see when I go are the trees, trails, rocks, majestic vistas, the layer upon layer of "smokey mountains" I see, the quiet, the wildlife, the fresh air, the cold,clear water and the opportunity to enjoy this creation without the crowds and their accompanying disturbances. I'll always gladly pay for these amenities forever.

Just for grins, did you know that the NPS budget is less than seven tenths of one percent of the federal budget? Did you also know that the NPS budget represents less than $8 per citizen of this country? This makes the arguement that "my tax dollars pay for this park" seem like a joke and a bad one at that. My wife and I paid $12,000 in federal taxes last year (on a total combined salary of less than $100,000) and I think I get quite a lot for my $8 the NPS gets.

Just sayin'.

Ranger Dave - thank you, thank you, thank you. Gratitude is the key. I realize you are right -- anyone can bring a lawsuit for any reason and it can be based on nothing more than a personal vendetta or perceived victimhood or ordinary pettiness.

Whatever it may be based on, I have been trying to make logical, rational sense of this particular lawsuit and could not. Your higher perspective on the matter is much appreciated.

dahkota -- you said "it seems as if they threw a lot of crap at the wall, hoping some would stick. Unfortunately, that doesn't often work." That was the impression I got as well in my attempts to make heads or tails of it.


Perhaps we should take some of the European models where those who bring lawsuits are on the hook for the expenses of the court and the winning party if they lose.


Great idea, but we know who would be against that.

As to the fees RD and several others here continue to miss (ignore, dodge?) the point. It is not that the park charges fees it is that the fee burden is unjustly placed on those that incure the lowest cost to the park.

Finally as to your $8 per person, that number is quite misleading as it is based on the entire population. There are about 138 tax filers and only half of those actually pay taxes which puts the number at more like $32 per tax payer. That number needs to be further adjusted to reflect the percent of those payers that actually visit a park - something around 15% which puts your taxes per payer that actually visited around $200. Of course the 50 percent that don't pay taxes are getting quite the bargain - if they visit a park..

Ok, it is more than apparent that everyone here who has ties to the park service supports the fee and all stakeholders (eg taxpayers who pay your salaries) do not.

What a surprise! And you attempt to deflect with the "poor old, underfunded park service" routine.

That line of logic would dictate that every time you call the police, fire or garbage service, you should pay a fee in addition to the tax you pay to have that service provided and in spite of the spirit of creation of the Smokies which, in the words of President Roosevelt at the dedication of the Smokies goes,

" But there is a second danger, a danger from without I hope, for example, that one hundred years from now the Great Smoky National Park will still belong in practice, as well as in theory, to the people of a free nation. I hope it will not belong to them in theory alone and that in practice the ownership of this park will not be in the hands of some strange kind of government puppet.... I hope the use of it will not be confined to people coming hither on government specified days and on government directed tours." It's almost as if he saw this coming.

Better get your tickets to see the fireflies!

To clarify, I have absolutely no ties to the National Park Service other than as a visitor to the national parks including GSMNP and a citizen who enjoys the notion that We The People have preserved land not only for ourselves to enjoy as a retreat or vacation, but also for wildlife and the natural ecosystem.

It seems to me that feeling gratitude for the gift is a much higher value than battling and warring over the very place one cherishes and appreciates.

Another interesting piece of evidence is this newly created petition calling for the recall of Smokies superintendent Ditmanson in light of his handling of the fee issue. It comes from Ohio and Kentucky. http://www.change.org/petitions/repeal-the-great-smoky-mountains-np-backcountry-camping-fee?utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition

That is in addition to this original petition condemning the Smokies backcountry fee at the beginning of the proposal: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/gsmnp_backcountry_fees/signatures

Add to that the public comments which are 18-1 in opposition to the backcountry fee and it would definitely give credence to the notion that I am dealing with a lot of NPS employees here. The small, vocal minority arguing here in a pro fee manner do not reflect the public data. That should raise more than a view eyebrows amongst NPT readers.

I think it's a damn shame that "poor old underfunded NPS" has been allowed to become 'routine'.

Sure, I'll take the latest bait from SmokiesBackpacker :-)

It's sad he assumes that disagreement with his position is coming mainly from "a lot of NPS employees." There are quite a few people out here (including me) who are not govt. employees but who have a different opinion that his.

Perhaps more important is the point that at least some of us who disagree with him also don't "support" the fee - we just don't object to it. That's a subtle but very important difference, and helps account for why there were relatively few comments on this topic other than from those who opposed the fee during the public comment period. The 18-1 ratio doesn't necessarily reflect overall public opinion on the subject - it's more an indication that the opposition did a great job rallying the troops, while most of the rest of us simply didn't care enough one way or the other to take time to comment.

For reasons already covered previously, there are valid reasons for a reservation system for at least the more popular sites during the busier season. If that could be done without a fee, great, but if it requires one, that's fine with me.

Finally, there's an assumption by some that if there is a change in superintendents, the fee will automatically go away. May not be the case, and the question of a fee and reservation system should be decided on the merits of the system, not personalities.

"Tickets to see the fireflies" are a little off topic, but since they do involve a small fee, that's appropriate here.

A few years back, the popularity of the firefly viewing reportedly resulted in traffic snarls, people having to come hours ahead of time to try to find a parking space, and safety concerns with pedestrians and vehicles trying to negotiate the same roadway in the dark.

The current system allows visitors to reserve a guaranteed parking spot for a $1.50 reservation fee (covers a vehicle and up to 6 people). A shuttle bus from parking area to viewing area is provided by the City of Gatlinburg and costs $1 a person. The park doesn't receive any of these funds.

For those who object to this plan, I'd be curious to hear what they suggest as a reasonable alternative.

Mtliving,

You are correct. I don't think a change in superintendents will have any effect on the fee at all. It sounds to me like the people who wrote it are sending a message to the NPS just like the TN state house of representatives. In reading the petition it objects to Dale Ditmanson's misrepresentations and dealings with the public. The very things we have been arguing about here that most folks don't wish to address. All I have heard here is that it doesn't matter that Ditmanson didn't tell the truth, repeatedly. And back to your point, there is nothing that can be done about it short of exposing the NPS through a lawsuit. I will bet that the NPS isn't happy with their Superintendent over his handling of this and wish they courld turn back the clock. That petition to recall Ditmanson is just another example of citizens doing whatever it takes to have their voices heard in a non responsive National Park System.

And Jim, to your point about the fireflies, I would suggest you quit taking what the Sugarlands issues in the form of press releases as gospel. Since I have been going to Elkmont to view the fireflies for decades, I can tell you that parking was tight but it didn't need a big govt solution. It darn sure didn't need a handy dandy fee from Canadian Based recreation.gov to fix things around here.

Mtnliving -- you hit the nail on the head when you say: "Perhaps more important is the point that at least some of us who disagree with him also don't "support" the fee - we just don't object to it. That's a subtle but very important difference, and helps account for why there were relatively few comments on this topic other than from those who opposed the fee during the public comment period. The 18-1 ratio doesn't necessarily reflect overall public opinion on the subject"

Just because one doesn't live in the greater Knoxville and backpack in GSMNP 60+ days a year doesn't mean one's opinion should be automatically discounted as that of "an NPS employee." Many of us represent the average 'Jane & John Q. Public' who value the parks and use the parks and camp in the parks, but don't live close enough to camp in GSMNP every weekend.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm not *for* more fees, higher fees, this fee, that fee. Much like Mtnliving said, I'm simply not against the fee in question and I can see value and benefits in an online reservation system. Mainly, I want to understand why such a reservation system or the fee for it is illegal.

As far as I can tell at this point, both the reservation system and the associated fee to use it appear to be quite legal per FLREA. So, to my mind, the only way to get rid of the fee is to get rid of FLREA. I have to say, at this point, the lawsuit in question appears to me to be more like a personal vendetta against the head dude at GSMNP by folks who think of themselves as somehow victimized rather than a rational and sound approach to rooting out illegal activity in the national park system. Of course, I could be wrong, and we will all see what the judge says about it.

First, I am not nor have I ever been in the employee of the federal government nor one of its entities or contractors. My mother worked for NIH 35 years ago and that is the extent of my ties to NPS.

I mentioned some problems with the lawsuit. I found quite a few. A couple are here.

The plaintiffs confuse a "tax" with a "fee." In fact, they go back and forth with the title. But:"A fee is a charge for use of a service or amenity. A tax, on the other hand, while it may be applied to a particular good or service or more generally to the population at large, is collected to raise general purpose revenues.A fee is distinct from a tax in that, '[u]nlike a tax, a special fee is not designed to raise revenues to defray the general expenses of government, but rather is a charge imposed upon persons or property for the purpose of defraying the cost of a particular governmental service.' A tax takes a cut of some other transaction for the purposes of raising revenue that's not connected to the activity being taxed. A fee, on the other hand, is a charge connected to the actual direct governmental cost of the activity."

The lawsuit confuses the term “Fee Area” with the term “Fee.” The NPS must announce in the Federal Register and follow guidelines for Public Participation for FEE AREAS. However, the Secretary has pretty much free reign on imposing Fees with the exception of creating an Advisory Council. However, he is free to disregard the advisory council. Because of this, Count VIII is irrelevant. (we could argue best practices, such as found in DO-22 below, but best practices are just that.)

Count IV doesn't even make sense. I think the plaintiffs misunderstand the statement, "...Nothing in this chapter shall limit the use of recreation opportunities only to areas designated for collection of recreation fees."

Count III. The lawsuit argues that NPS is not allowed to charge an entrance fee in GSMNP. However, the backcountry permit fee is not an entrance fee, it is an overnight camping fee or a reservation fee. There is no fee charged for entering the park – there is a fee charged for getting a permit to stay in the park overnight.

Count II isn't related to the fee.

The only fee the NPS must get public input for is when they want to designate a new FEE AREA. I have looked through a few years of the Federal Register and found very little with regard to implementation of fees and the NPS. Unlike the Forest Service or BLM, the rules are a little different for the NPS.

These might help in relation to the position of NPS:

http://www.nps.gov/policy/DOrders/DO-22.pdf

note on page 16 (10.1) fee approval process. (10.3) states public notice and difference of Fee Area.

http://www.nps.gov/policy/DOrders/75A.htm

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/16/chapter-87

If the fee goes away, so be it. As mtnliving stated, I am not for the fee nor am I against it. I do however, personally, like the reservation system. It beats showing up and having to turn back or sleep with 11 loud, smelly boyscouts.

People can condemn and protest and petition the fee all they like. I just don't think they have a leg to stand on legally. If it gets rescinded, it will be due to public pressure, not the filed lawsuit.

I think what may result will be a hybrid. People will be free to reserve on the system and, up to 24 hours in advance, if any space is left, they can get one in person for free. Kind of like walk in camping.

Quote from Ranger Dave.Submitted by Ranger Dave on May 6, 2013 - 11:19pm.

I've been absent from comments for a while now because I grew weary of the same old arguements from the same folks on it seems like every issue brought up on this site. I have been reading and have followed much of the banter without commenting.

I couldn't agree more with Ranger Dave. Regards The Tennessee House of Representatives and the backpacking fee at Smokies I initially found the subject interesting. But there are other interesting posts that get no comment. As far as I am concerned many of the regular posters are obviously anti-governmemt idealogues who also hate the idea of National Parks. They also hide behind fake names and I think should be ignored by those not afraid to say who they are and where they might be coming from. I left NPT for a year or more and may do so again. Most of us could care less what the Tennessee House says, and have no objection for paying a fee to camp.