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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.


all the overnight camping fees would have been deemed illegal for decades.

No, because the other parks don't charge exclusively for backcountry camping. Besides the issue isn't so much what is "legal" and "illegal", it is what is right. Is it right to charge backcountry campers a fee when they have little if any incremental cost on running the park when you don't charge a fee for other usage which is for more taxing on park finances?

Internal documents provided through FOIA requests show that Ditmanson is authorized to collect a fee to pay for a reservation system and a reservation system only. Any other use of those funds exceeds their authorization through the Dept of Interior. All of this "feel good" help the Smokies stuff is bull. And here is the proof. Look at page 5 and take a good look at all the other documents.

Although I know nothing about this other than what I've been reading in Traveler, I think this is one more example of an odd trait among many Americans. They demand services, but balk violently at paying for them. Our national infrastructure is crumbling, and when a bridge gives out or a sewer backs up, watch out for the seismic waves of wrath. But if anyone in any government suggests increasing fees or taxes, then here comes the wrathful earthquake anyway. It's not just in our parks. It seems to be a national epidemic.

Something isn't making sense here.

So Lee - what "services" are the backcountry campers getting that their fee is paying for?

We aren't demanding any services, Lee Dalton. As a matter of fact the public comments were 18-1 rejecting a reservation system. If anything, we are asking for a reduction in "services". This fee is a solution in search of a problem. Backcountry campers don't want the federal solution to a non existent problem. The problem in the Smokies is top heavy bureaucracy that concocts these unpopular, big govt solutions for non existent problems. But public comments are really not of any consequence to the NPS.

ebuck, you say other national parks don't charge for backcountry camping, but several of them do. For instance, Yellowstone National Park requires advance reservations for backcountry camping and charges a fee for it. Rocky Mountain National Park requires advance reservations for backcountry camping and charges a fee for it. Grand Teton National Park requires advance reservations for backcountry camping and charges a fee for it. Those are just a few. I suppose these are called "administrative fees" or "service fees" not camping fees, per se, but they are in place and they are established precendent in our national park system.

ebuck, as for what is "right" -- that would be a personal opinion. Apparently it is "right" in other national parks to charge fees for all campers, including front country campers, backcountry campers and horse campers.

Surely the lawsuit we are discussing here is being addressed by the legal system because the lawsuit is about what is "legal" -- and it appears there is already precedent in our national park system that suggests clearly these reservation fees/administrative fees/service fees related to overnight camping (anywhere in the park) are indeed legal.

Isn't just keeping a national park open a "service?" As I said above, I'm not really familiar with the situation in the Smokies -- but was commenting on what I've observed frequently seemingly almost everywhere around me.

Cut spending -- but don't cut anything that might affect ME!

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