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Lawsuit Against Backcountry User Fee At Great Smoky Mountains National Park Can Proceed

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A lawsuit challenging the backcountry user fee assessed at Great Smoky Mountains National Park can proceed, a federal judge has ruled.

Although Judge Joseph M. Hood rejected portions of the lawsuit brought by Southern Forest Watch, Inc., against the Interior Department and the National Park Service, he kept intact the group's challenge to the $4 per night per person fee for backcountry travelers in the national park.

The backcountry fee, with a $20 per person cap per trip, took effect in February 2013. It is intended by park officials to help streamline and improve the backcountry permitting process and heighten the presence of rangers in the backcountry.

In suing to overturn the fee, Southern Forest Watch contends not only that the fee isn't merited, but draws on both Park Service history and mandates to contend the agency is precluded from charging the $4 per person per night fee.

While Judge Hood dismissed the group's challenge of the online registration system the park put in effect, saying the plaintiffs had failed to show they were injured by the system, he ruled they could challenge the nightly fees. In doing so, he rejected the government's claim that the Park Service enjoyed sovereign immunity in creating and implementing the reservation system and fee structure.

"Plaintiffs may challenge the superintendent’s decision to implement the backpacker registration fee under the APA, and this Court will have jurisdiction," Judge Hood ruled.

No date for the challenge was immediately set.

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