Traveler's View: Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Backcountry Fee Debate Points To Larger Problem

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While a backcountry use fee might help meet a small portion of Great Smoky's bills, a better solution is a park entrance fee/Kurt Repanshek

In a 25-page motion attacking not just the propriety but also the legality of a backcountry user fee at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a group of backpackers has not only asked that the fees be tossed out, but shined some light on the conundrum of how to afford our public lands.

The overwhelming dilemma here is not that backcountry users have to pay $4 a night, with a maximum fee of $20 for one trip, but rather that the National Park Service has its hands legislatively tied in its efforts to meet the needs of one of the most popular national parks. Politicians seem quick to oppose the fee but not as quick to solve the problem.

The lawsuit (attached below) makes accusations about how the staff of the park, under former Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, went about building its case for the user fees. Among the charges is that the staff concocted complaints about the existing backcountry reservation system, that minutes of public meetings were missing from the administrative record, and that some staff discussions of the matter were conducted on private, not government, email accounts. It also argues that federal regulations prohibit fees for backcountry campsites unless they come with "drinking water, access, road, refuse containers, toilet facilities ... (and) reasonable visitor protection," none of which exist, short of privies, in the park's backcountry.

More so, the lawsuit, contends that federal law prohibits the National Park Service at Great Smoky from charging "an entrance or standard amenity recreation fee ... unless fees are charged for entrance into that park on main highways and thoroughfares."

Southern Forest Watch, which brought the lawsuit, also contends that "(A) 25 percent drop in backcountry camping (from 84,236 in 2012 to 62,863 the following year) since full implementation of this fee is dramatic evidence that this fee has impaired this generation's use of the Smoky Mountains ... "

In February 2012, Superintendent Ditmanson told the Traveler that, faced with an inadequate budget and unable to charge an entrance fee for any of his roughly 9 million yearly visitors, he saw no way of improving visitor services and protecting backcountry resources without charging users who spend the night in the woods.

The solution would seem to lie with those political entities that have sided with Southern Forest Watch in its anti-fee fight: the speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, the Knox County (Tennessee) Commission as well as county officials in Bradley and Blount counties in Tennessee and Swain County in North Carolina. Rather than simply opposing the backcountry fees, these politicians should work to overturn the prohibition on entrance fees to Great Smoky, or to pressure Washington to better fund the Park Service. Or both.

Similar support should be sought from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, who in the past has been honored by the National Parks Conservation Association for his pro-Park Service stances. Moving to shore up financing for Great Smoky Mountains specifically, and the National Park Service in general, would burnish that William Penn Mott Jr. Park Leadership Award he received from the NPCA in 2007 for opposing drastic changes to the Park Service's Management Policies and the costly "Road to Nowhere."

This is not to wholeheartedly endorse fees in the parks across the board. But when entrance fees are charged at one-third of the 401 units of the National Park System, and put to good use in improving the parks for the visitors' benefit, the longstanding ban against such a fee at Great Smoky is an anachronism in this day of scarce federal funds.

While recreation fees are generally unsavory, if there are to be fees, the Smokies would benefit much, much more from a $10-$20 per car fee from the millions who enter the park and exert considerable wear and tear on not only roads but also frontcountry facilities each year than from a $4 per night fee on 65,000 backcountry campers who sleep on the ground and walk down a path.

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Comments

Congress does not have the power to allow the NPS to charge an entrance fee for GRSM when accessed from Tennessee. Not being familiar with the Park I don't know if there are other access points where an entrance fee could be charged, but charging at some access points and not others would likely create a logistical nightmare.

The State of Tennessee conveyed their highways to the United States with a deed restriction prohibiting fees in perpetuity:

[I, Charles F. Wayland Jr, Commissioner of Highways and Public Works, under authority of the governor and General Assembly of the State of Tennessee] do hereby sell, transfer, and convey to the United States of America, subject to the reservations hereinafter set out, all of the right, title, and interest of the State of Tennessee in and to any and all State Highways located on, over, or within the lands which are a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.. . .The grantor conveys said right, title, and interest in and to State Highways subject to the following reservations:. . .3. No toll or license fee shall ever be imposed by the United States of America or any agency thereof for the use by the public of state highways Nos. 71 and 73, and the rights is especially reserved unto the State of Tennessee to allow the public to use said highways; provided however, that the United States of America may regulate and restrict the use of said highways by commercial vehicles of more than one and one-half (1 1/2) ton rated capacity between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm.- Accepted by the Director of the National Park Service, June 1, 1951

You're right Kitty, but that's not to say Congress -- Sen. Alexander in particular -- couldn't persuade the Tennessee General Assembly to alter that prohibition for the good of the park and all who enjoy it.

Well said, Kurt.

I backpacked in Cataloochee last fall before the shutdown. It was a last-minute decision, and I did not have access to make the reservation online. I made well over 20 calls trying to get the permit. One reservation number didn't give the option for GSMNP. No one there could tell me who to call. I left voicemails all over the place, no one called me back. I finally crossed paths with another backpacker who gave me a number to call. There was NO signage at Cataloochee about how to call to get a permit. (Yes, I had cell service in the area) When I finally got someone to make the reservation, it took in excess of 20 minutes - how that is a good use of the Ranger's time is beyond me.

But, I wonder how charging an acess fee for vehicles would impact things - that requires manning the booths, administration, etc. In the Spring and Fall, it certainly would generate a lot of revenue...

The reservation system is cumbersome when it does work properly. You need a printer, credit card and it really isn't operable on a phone with internet service. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The lies that drove this fee are the biggest issue and why? To generate less than a couple hundred thousand in revenue? You want to know why Lamar alexander supports the fee? Because his friends are the beneficiaries of the political patronage of which the lawsuit speaks. Both the park and Lamar and the private resorts want folks out of the backcountry because they see people as the problem with the resource. Therefore they fabricated data to make it sound like a problem and successfully reduced visitation to the backcountry by %25. I've seen numbers that say up to thirty percent but the point is clear. Horses are the problem in the backcountry if folks are honest but the horse crowd is also the Lamar voting/Blackberry Farms crowd so instead of addressing something that really causes damage, we will just dispense with the meddlesome backpackers that actually can see the bs being spouted by Ditmanson and his cronies. Everyone except Clay Jordan that had something to do with this fee is gone. The lady who spearheaded the lies was promoted to a superintendency out West, Melissa Cobern. Ditmanson brought this scandal to town and quietly retired like the rest. It was his soul to the devil so he could live well. Charging an entrance fee is a whole other issue. I'd like to see Lamar try to get that on the books. He is vulnerable politically right now. The Southern Forest Watch has exposed him for the Smokies phony he really is.

The real travesty of this backpacking fee in the Smokies is the park has admitted that the fee money only covers a system to collect the fee! It doesn't help the park budget or other needs in any way. Truly a monumental waste to anyone with the least bit of common sense. I think what happens in this case will go a long way in setting the tone for the rest of the NPS system.

A better fee idea would be charging folks who drive the Cades Cove loop (how about $4 per person, per loop!) I'd venture to say it gets the most visitation of any area in the park, and it's probably not even close. It also seems to require a lot of resources (rangers, etc) to open/close, patrol, break up bear-jams, maintain structures, etc. Finally I'd venture to say there is more pollution (auto emissions, trash, etc) generated from that area than any other area of the park. Let a loop fee pay for the upkeep and encourage carpooling, or gasp, walking the loop.

If NPS can figure a way to charge people for sleeping in the backcountry, they can figure a way to charge for Cades Cove auto access.

Tom, you are correct. If they can concoct data to justify sleeping on unimproved ground, then they could easily fabricate data to justify a loop fee in the Cove. But here is why, in my opinion, they dont. If they started charging folks to drive the loop, then Sevier County would be up in arms because all those tourists would have no reason to visit the park. Because that is the extent of their experience in the Smokies. Heaven forbid they ever leave their vehicles. Sevier county wants people driving into their restuaruants, hotels and go kart tracks and Cherokee wants folks visiting their casinos. A toll on the road would eliminate that commerce. A tax on backpackers is a foot in the door for a tax on trailhead parking, fly fishing and many other nickel and dime schemes. None of which will affect those loop clogging rednecks because they keep the Pigeon Forge buffets in business.

John, just for fun, you have some errors again that should be pointed out. First, you can use a checking account on the backcountry reservation system. All you need is your account and routing information. Secondly, I use a smarthone and am one of 1.75 billion people to have and use one, so i'm far from a rarity, and more like the norm in this country. I can access the site, and register quite easily with my phone, then my permit information is emailed to me, and I then just get the permit on my phone and keep it there while im in the backcountry. I usally turn my phone off so I don't waste battery, but its on there incase i'm in camp and get asked to pull out a permit. I then turn on the phone, pull up the permit, and the end. Secondly, i'm only aware of a small handful of trails in the National Park system that require a fee. Most do not for day hiking. Whitney, Half Dome, and the Tall Trees in Redwoods NP are a few that come to mind. Can't think of many more other than those. Most parks do require a fee to enter the park. The Smokies does not. A majority of parks have a backcountry permit fee. Not all, but most. The system is not cumbersome, unless you are so technically unsavy that you can't even power on a computer let alone get on the web. If they can't handle that simple website, then they have much bigger issues going on. Secondly, they can call in, and the number is on the backcountry camping page on the website. It's open 8 to 5 daily, and that number is (865) 436-1297. The person above sounded like she didn't even call the office but the main park line.. Once again, a simple search on the web gives you the number.

I'd also think that the 25% visitation you love to promote as ABSOLUTE facts that the backcountry system is failing is a misnomer, and here's why. First, last year was a weird year for the Smokies. Let's not forget in January the main highway slid off the side of the road and took 5 months to repair. That closed the main road through the park. Imagine Going-to-the-sun Road going off the side of the mountain. Think Glacier would be affected for some time. Well that happened in the Smokies. That screwed up the wildflower pilgrimage, and many other things. Pretty much set back spring tourism in the park. Then June, July and August turned out to be one of the coolest, and wettest summers on record. Over 110+ inches of rain fell in the backcountry last year. Many main holiday periods were dealt with lots of rain. I remember it well, because I was out in it A LOT. It was a lot of bad days of weather. So, that had an affect. Then let's not forget the tea party shutdown of our parks in October. Boy, you think the height of October when fall was at it's prime doesn't affect visitation? Think again. October is the busiest month, and half of it was shut down, and many had to cancel their plans. Im sure you remember that well, while you were promoting from the sidelines to bring anarchy to the park. Some of us had to watch it all unfold. Wasn't pretty, wasn't kind, and it left me with an utter distaste for the tea party, and people calling for the anarchy. So, let's be fair.

Finally, let's also look at current statistics. There is about a 28% increase in visitation this year, over last. It's actually rather insane how much busier the park has been. Also backcountry use is up too. You can get the stats on the internet. They are out there. Personally, I don't have a true feeling either way on a gate fee for the Smokies. At times I think it would be useful, other times I think what makes this one National Park different would be lost. One thing I do like is that it is open and people can dayhike basically for free without paying any fee. I don't think that's a bad thing. Like you, I'm also not a fan of Pigeon Forge. I have yet to understand that town or what exactly it is. It's an odd place... like a bizarre southern offshoot of Las Vegas for christians and bumpkins. Seems to be mostly a regional thing, because i've never seen a similar town built anywhere around any other national park. I always considered West Yellowstone weird...well that was until I first saw Pigeon Forge. West Yellowstone is tame in comparison. I guess that makes you and I agree on at least something.

Backcountry use is down %25 percent and those are the parks own numbers. Where in the world do you get the idea that it is up? Please show me a link. I would like to hear how you think that a decrease in backcountry use is good. And regarding the backcountry reservation website, when is the last time you backcountry camped in the Smokies, Gary? Seriously. There are numerous complaints, documented, with regard to that BS software. It takes three separate screens and your bank account? You can give them your bank acct info but I refuse to do that because it is foolish. You don't agree that the Smokies needs an entry fee but you think backcountry campers need one. The irony of your positions is glaring. But that is what happens when non backcountry campers weigh in on the backcountry fee. Dayhikers don't mind if we backpackers pay a fee and park service employees don't mind it either. You fall in both categories. Next thing I expect to hear is how you think horses are good for the trails.

Reading comprehension skills is not one of your strong suits. Should I write S-L-O-W-E-R or something? Yes, last year the decrease in visitation was noted and witnessed, but a lot of it was because of three events - a road sliding off the side of a mountain shutting the main park down for 5 months, a wet and cold summer, and a government shutdown during the busiest part of the year.

Backcountry usage is up this year, actually way up compared to last year. Visitation is astronomically higher. Sorry to burst that bubble of yours. If you are having trouble with a simple website, than that is your problem. I didnt go to school around here, so maybe the schools need better funding if people can't click through 3 easy pages. If that's tough, then analyzing data on park statistics is going to be a tougher task. Its simple to find. Good luck!! All park visitation statistics are out on the web and current to the last month.

And I am usually out in the backcountry many times a month. Was just out last week. And, I am very much a proponent of backcountry camping. That's how I spend most of my vacations, and I spend many weeks a year out in the Smokies backcountry on filming excursions. I have to backpack anywhere from 50 to 60 lbs worth of gear, so dayhiking is a tough task to carry what I have to do. It's easier to backcountry camp with that much gear.

And I did state I don't have an opinion on a gate fee. I think it has it's pluses and minuses. I also didn't have much of an opinion on the backcountry fee either, but I have seen rangers many times on the trail, and have seen what they've done. So, it's being put to the right use. I will say, I have seen a LOT less dogs traveling up LeConte and the AT this year. Two years ago, I saw them almost every day. Now, its rare to encounter them, or stragglers using up shelters that didn't reserve them.

The usual lack of data that so characterizes our NPS is displayed beautifully here. Along with the slandering of those that question them and uncivil manners. I saw two dogs on Leconte two months ago. I thought the fee was supposed to stop that. More undocumented mythology from the NPS and its employees but no one was paying me to hike up there so perhaps my view is a little different.

Did you take a picture of it? And seriously, did you not learn how to use google? Come on Johnny, you're telling me you don't do any real research before you make your claims?

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2013/jan/20/fixing-smokies-slide-area-chall...

http://earthsky.org/earth/u-s-southeast-experiencing-extreme-rainfall-in...

http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2014/07/20/smokies-visitat...

There is about a 28% increase in visitation this year, over last

Gary, I think that is the number he is looking for. Do you have a link for that?

He obviously does not. But this is also the guy who swore that a private resort never ever maintained their own trails in the Smokies and later admitted he never went there to check it out and to this day hasn't gone.

Gotta love the incompetence. For someone that is supposedly so up-to-date and knowledgable about the Park (yeah right), and has such a supposed deep insight on every aspect of the park (yeah right again) so that he can use such supposed insight to fire off false accusation after false accusation, he doesn't even know where to access current park statistics to back up any of his anti-park propaganda. Wow.

Yep, the figures show a 28% increase in visitors from last year and that June 2014 was the busiest month ever in the Smokies. And yes, June was insanely crowded. Over 2 million visits, which is a record by over 300,000 people. Backcountry usage beyond 50,000 at this point. Heck, just half way through the year, and it's probably going to top all years in the previous decade, and we haven't even hit fall (second busiest month), nor has July (the busiest month of the year) been updated yet. Ohh boy.

....translation, "I can't provide a link to show an increase in backcountry camping but I can play with numbers to make it look like this fee is going to increase backcountry camping by the time the year is over. " You've successfully neutered your own argument, Gary. June is always peak park usage time. But you don't think there needs to be an entrance fee to the Smokies? Just a backpacking fee. How about a Blackberry Farms private trail usage fee? Should there be a fee for horses on the trails in the park? I haven't heard you chime in on that one yet. I'm confused, do you think there should be fees or not. Do you even know?

Gary,

For the rest of us that don't claim "so up-to-date" knowledge or "deep insight". Might you share that link to the current park statistics?

I'm having some fun watching John try and spin spin spin in his angst ridden tirades. Can't you let me play around for a little longer before tossing him a bone and making him look like a fool. Actually, John, traditionally July is the busiest month, followed by October, then June. June already broke records. Boy, I thought you would know these things, with your very deep insight that you claim to have. Like I said, this is quickly shaping up to be one of the busiest years in the park in over a decade.

I'm having some fun watching John try and spin spin spin in his angst ridden tirades.

Gee the rest of us are trying to get educated and/or intelligently discuss the issues. What was that definition again Kurt?

It's not my fault you guys never learned to do research on your own. That's your own fault, not mine. But it explains a lot about why people are constantly having frustrating experiences with some on this site in such "debates".

Since some can't use google, nor do their own research because it requires effort, here you go. I'm not going to hand hold people through this, but everything is on this site including the figures I gave you. Here is the link to monthly visitation statisitcs.

GSMNP Monthly Visitation Statistics

That 54% increase in visitation is quite interesting given that camping (campground) nights were down as was vehicle traffic. How do you think those folks got there and where did they stay? To what would you attribute the 54% leap when the prior months had been, at best, up modestly?

I suspect a revision is in order.

28%. This summer has been quite busy. Busiest year i've experienced by far.

https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/SSRSReports/Park%20Specific%20Reports/Monthly%20Public%20Use?Park=GRSM

The numbers do show backcountry nights are up handsomely YTD - 49,033 vs 39,818. But given the anomoly already mentioned as well as some catagories that have the exact same number for a given month for 3 or 4 years in a row, I think it is appropriate to view these stats will generous skeptisism as to their accuracy.

Visitation numbers are notoriously soft, EC. For instance, last September the park noted that "Multiple counters in the park were inoperable during September."

Last August they reported, "8 traffic counters are inoperable, 2012 data used for report."

28% is total, including non-recreational, what ever that is. Recreational (the chart you orignally linked to) was up 54% in June after being down in May and flat to up modestly in the prior months.

But again I will ask, if you believe these numbers, why isn't their a corresponding increase in traffic and overall camping?

Backcountry and frontcountry campsites all go through a database through the reservation system.. Backcountry campground statistics a few years ago would be what i'd call "soft" too. Today I would consider those stats accurately tallied since they go through a reservation system which uses a database, which many parks also use. Also, many sites in Elkmont and Cades Cove are usually booked out or near occupancy, so they stay steady or fluctuate very little from year to year during peak times. The other sites (which are much smaller) add a few thousand or less to the yearly totals. Those numbers arent going to greatly fluctuate.. So, while visitation maybe more, they aren't making more campgrounds to accomodate more people. Also, some of those sites still remain closed from the sequester like Look Rock and Abrams Creek. Statistics on autos are estimated via formulas from counters, like Kurt said. All I know about June (and now July) was that I waited in traffic many times, and that the towns and restaurants are insanely packed like sardines to the point that it wasn't worth going out.

Abrams Creek Campground is open and has been for several months. overall backcountry camping will be down at the end of the year when the total is summarized just like it was last year.

Stats from backcountry reservations are not keeping with your wishes, John. Considering July through October are usually some of the heaviest visitation months and haven't even been factored into it yet, there is a good probability totals will be around 90,000 to 100,000 by years end. Currently it stands at 50,000.

One month or two does not an annual trend make Gary. But you are the Expert. Need me to show you when Abrams creek reopened?

I don't stay in any of the small front country campgrounds like Abrams. Why would I? And sorry to burst your bubble. I know you wish for the parks destruction but, if the totals go over 100,000 then some could argue that the system is successful, and the cleaner trails and backcountry campsites, and the ranger presence is creating a more pleasant environment for backpackers compared to how it was. I know that might bother you, but it doesn't seem to be bothering others. I've been out quite a bunch this year, and encountered many people in the backcountry.

John, no reason to keep trying to reason with the unreasonable. They simply ignore the fact that the past superintendent changed the reason for the fee three times before one stuck. If I'm not mistaken Gary still hasn't answered whether there should be a fee for horses.

This comment was edited to remove a gratuitous remark.--Ed.

Franky, does any other National Park have fees for horses? Hmm... I think they just have to pay to use backcountry sites like everyone else. Not all trails in the Smokies allow horses, and while maybe a few should be decommissioned, there are many trails that are in good shape. Why should the Smokies be "different" as a National park by banning horses? Since elk are in the park, hows that any different than a horse in terms of size? Elk are using the backcountry all around North Carolina side of the park. I spent too much of my life out west, so I don't have a big issue with horses on trails, except when it rains or if they are in fragile sensitive areas. I've ridden horses when I lived in Idaho, and it was fun times. There should also be sane limits on how many use a trail at a given time, and during certain times when the trails aren't saturated.. Gosh... you guys need to really travel more beyond the Smokies. It would help you better understand what a National Park is.

We don't need to travel, we just read your accounts Gary. You're the expert.

The one thing I see that's very interesting in all this is that how few people actually venture in the backcountry. Roughly 100K people out of 10M visitors, or 1%. Trails must be pretty empty.

What no one seems to be saying is how unfair it is that one of the most popular units of the national park system does not charge entrance fees while the others do. Laws can be changed, and should be in this case. Period.

Franky?? it's obvious your able to post whatever you want without the edit button. I simply said " $@$! was too angry to see the other side's point of view" and Ed edited it. So Gary you win. backpackers and only backpackers should flip the bill.

Laws can be changed, and should be in this case. Period.

Which way?

Zebby only about 25000 to 300000 a year go more than a 1/4 of a mile. Yes getting out of the vehicle and working off the krispy kremes should be promoted more.

@SmokiesBackpacker (John Quillen)....your posts on this topic, and others in NPT, are dripping with anger and mistruth. It's really hard, impossible really, to take you seriously. You sound like Mel Gibson in "Conspiracy Theory". No doubt you're cruising around the park in your taxi cutting words out of park press releases to prove the NPS (and NSA) secret war against the public.

Let's face it, with 9....or 10 million visitors, just HOW do you propose that the park stay open, if you're so opposed to fees? Your argument is to remove all management and oversight. That's working great for the BLM. Wonder what a fracking tower would look like in Cades Cove.....The original arcticle intelligenty discussed the pro's and cons of the BC Fee, and intelligently discussed a possible alternative. Your only response is to rant and rave. You're contributing nothing to the discussion, or a solution.

I personaly am extremely grateful that given their budget, the park at least keeps toilette paper in the restrooms, and if I get hurt deep in the back country, the rangers will have me in a hospital in hours.

If I were to be really supportive of a fee, John, it would be a tax on your Conspiracy Theories.....

swore that a private resort never ever maintained their own trails in the Smokies

John, I think it's a no-brainer that you're going to lose that argument in court, or anywhere. There is no proof, written, documented, or otherwise, the BBF maintained illegal trails in the park. Conspiracy Theory. Seriously? You think someone in the park is naive enough to let someone come in and start building illegal trails? There's a lot of moving pieces to building and maintaining park trails. If the park, did indeed allow such activity, how 'come we don't see it on the park trail map? Don't they publish directions to ALL of the trails and campsites in the park?

Gary, you have finally slipped to a new low. Posting under my name on NPT. Classy.

To the fake backpackr you might want to look at the Southern Forest Watch lawsuit that clearly shows the trails BF maintained in the park. And if you took the time to read the NPS response, you would know that the Smokies Admin admitted they asked BF to remove their darn trail sign from NPS lands. But if you don't think that is sufficient proof then just go to the text of the lawsuit and look at the pictures of the trails and downed trees. But we have established that you are too lazy to go up there from the get go. The abundance of evidence, along with a recent scouting trip to the area shows that Blackberry is clearly trying to remove all evidence of their use of NPS lands for a private trail system. You really should go up to Ace Gap and check it out. I had friends up there last week who sent even more pics of BF own signs telling people to go away. You think that is just coincidence? Ha. We got you folks on the run. Methinks someone doth protest too much.

Folks, I think going forward we're going to have to block all comments to stories about the Smokies. Not only are some of the comments in general caustic, but many are far from constructive, and now there are charges of folks usurping others' identities.

Unfortunately, under the current sign-on system we use to allow folks to gain an account so they can comment, all one needs to do is provide an email address and user name, both of which can be fictitious. And, sadly, it seems more than a few people are too timid to use their real names.

Just for the record, that is not me.. and Kurt, if you're willing to post the conspiracy lawsuits, then you should be willing to keep open the threads for dialogue.

John, seriously, I posted your original documented account of your trip into this area. It showed nothing similar to your later allegations. And it also showed a GPS coordinate posted by your friend of the sign outside of the park. There are also old maps from the 30s and 40s that you can download online that shows this old Hurricane Boundary Trail, where portions of it skirt the direct boundary between NPS and Blackberry farms property. You make little sense. You need to really research things before spouting off with conspiracies.

Face it there was nothing to cover up. You're just creating things out of nothing. Secondly, i'm not afraid to use my name. Why would I hide behind a pseudonym?

Gary, I understand your point, but of late the dialogue that has followed stories about the Smokies' lawsuit constantly devolves into name calling, insults, and the like, and the Traveler was never intended to provide that sort of forum.

If those on both sides of the issue can't remain civil and on point, we're not going to allow that sort of dialogue on the Traveler as it serves no purpose other than to inflame. Readers who might have something substantial to contribute also are dissuaded from doing so because they don't want to be insulted or denigated for their point(s) of view.

Court filings are a matter of public record, and we will continue to follow this issue through its outcome.

No offense, but I think this opinion piece that you wrote was going to inflame regardless if it was on the Smokies or not.

I used to enjoy reading the coments here. It was educational and thought provoking. I don't enjoy seeing the name calling and disparaging remarks. I understand those posting aren't doing so for my enjoyment but i'd hazard a guess that most feel the same way.

I would disagree with you Gary. The point of the editorial was that the Park Service needs to find solutions for funding parks that are not able to charge, or don't charge, entrance fees. I don't see anything inflammatory in that.

The editorial offered one possible solution for the Smokies...with hopes readers might have ideas of their own.

As we move into the second century of the National Park Service, funding the parks is going to become a greater and greater issue, unless Congress can be persuaded to see the merits of a healthy and thriving park system. We can have that without blowing out the federal budget. But we're going to have to get a bit creative.

Kurt, I guess, the article would be inflammatory to some. In the smokies this is a very divisive issue. Not so much with your average visitor but with some local groups.

And some of us already work in that arena of doing our part to fund the parks, or at least fund aspects to a park. Many parks are solvent, in my opinion and self-sustaining because of camping, entrance, and backcountry fees, along with non-profit donations. There are also many research grants, etc that help fund the science in the park. Maybe a few aren't solvent, especially the more remote parks, but that doesn't make them any less special or warrant being kicked out of the system. Many members of Congress that come from states with parks in their confines know and understand the value of these places. Where it gets hairy is with the senators from places where there are few National Parks (Tom Coburn from Oklahoma comes to mind, Rick Santorum is another one although he's now pretty much a neutered politician), so they don't see the value because they aren't engaged in that ideology or have ever spent much time in Parks because it's not part of their state. But for every one of those, there are many other congressman that do see the value. I also think we are on the path to a new golden age for National Parks, and I think social media is providing a broad outreach for many of the popular National Parks that goes well beyond just these borders. This current rhetoric from the Tea Party is as old as can be, and while the economy from the past lost decade has definitely caused budget cuts, that is not always a bad thing as it forces better decision making in tough times. But, the point is that our parks are busy. Many, i'd say have hit a plateau in that they can't handle excessively more visitation, but there is definitely a strong affinity by many in this country for the National Parks, and they aren't going away anytime soon. I'm not fearful. As for the Smokies, don't fret it. The park is going to be A oK..