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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.


Not really volatile when you consider the toxicity of dishonesty driving the fee. Evolving justifications, misrepresentation of scientific data to justify the fee, discounting of public comments and use of concessionaires to make false assertions about an out of control backcountry "crisis" have locals fighting mad. Now it has spread to user groups in Ohio and Kentucky. Folks don't appreciate the NPS lying over and over. It is pretty simple and has less to do with the fee than the outright lies driving it.

Smokiesbackpacker, I never knew a government entity to sufficiently justify raising fees or taxes on citizens, at least not from the citizens' perspective. So if that's the real reason for all the anger, that sort of thing is everywhere in local, state and national governments. But just because they (whoever 'they' might be) didn't justify the fee to your satisfaction doesn't mean they can't impose a fee which makes all campers equal. So yes, all campers now have to pay a fee to stay overnight -- be they local, out of state, whatever. No special group gets to stay overnight in the park for free anymore. Frankly, I see no problem with treating all GSMNP overnighters the same in this regard.

Mtn Hiker,

You do understand that there are NO amenities in the smokies backcountry, right? When I say no amenities I mean none. For instance, should a backcountry camper be required to pay almost the same amt as a front country camper that has bathrooms with showers, paved roads to their site, picnic tables, treated water and barbecue grills?

The only thing nearing an amenity in the backcountry is a bear cable and that is provided by donations. There are no level tent sites, no bathrooms (unless you consider the shelter privies bathrooms but again, those are provided by volunteers no the NPS). To say that backcountry campers should pay a fee to sleep on unimproved ground by walking on trails that are volunteer maintained into campsites that are volunteer maintained is inequity at its zenith. We all know this is a backdoor entrance fee because of the deed restriction. It is wrong and the NPS will have to answer for it in the pending lawsuit. Consider the damage one horse does to a trail and they pay nothing unless they overnight, which rarely happens. Targeting backcountry campers was Ditmanson's biggest mistake. I assure you it is one he wishes he could revisit. The lawsuit may afford him that very opportunity.

I understand no amenities. Campers who camp in the backcountry don't want or need amenities. But if a horse camper or hiker or backpacker sleeps overnight in the backcountry, they all pay a fee for that experience. If they go in and come out in the same day, they don't pay any fee because that would equate to an "entrance fee." So, this overnight fee is not "targeting" any one particular group. All overnighters pay a fee for the overnight experience. If "free" is what you must have, you may have to find another place to sleep overnight to get it.

I don't see how a fee for overnight camping is illegal, even though an entrance fee would be illegal. So if that is the focus of the lawsuit, I don't see how a judge could rule to prevent such a fee because, clearly, it isn't an entrance fee. You still enter for free, regardless of how you enter (foot, horse, bicycle, car, motorcycle, moped, etc.). Only if you stay overnight are you charged a few bucks. I guess we'll see when the ruling is made.

As for who does the most damage, the point of public parks is that they are open to the public. A wheelchair or a bicycle may do more damage than a barefoot walker and a shod horse may do more damage than a couple of dogs on leashes. But the park is owned by the public, open to the public, and serves everyone in the public, not just selected individuals or selected groups of people.

So, this overnight fee is not "targeting" any one particular group.

Mtnhiker - I can fathom why you aren't getting this. It is targeting one group - overnight backcountry campers. Its not targeting drive throughs, its not targeting front country campers, its not targeting horseback riders, its not targeting day hikers all of which put as much if not a greater burden on park resources.

ecbuck, how can an overnight camping fee be targeting any one group when *all* people who camp overnight in the park pay a fee? It doesn't matter about anything else -- whether you call yourself a horseback rider, a backpacker, a local, a handicapped person. It only matters that you stay overnight. If its "targeting" anybody, it's targeting all those who stay overnight. If you don't want to pay the fee, don't stay overnight.

From this discussion, it's beginning to sound like one particular group of overnighters want to single themselves out as the victims of a draconian $4 per night fee to camp. Whatever. I don't see how any judge would think an overnight fee that *all* campers pay is the same as an entrance fee that no one is paying. But, like I said before, when the ruling comes down, we'll all get to see it.

Mtnhiker - Is it OK to discriminate against one group (overnight backcountry campers) as long as you discriminate against all of them?

Okay, so the national park system is discriminating against people who camp in the national parks overnight? Because overnight campers are charged a fee? If that's the case, all the overnight camping fees would have been deemed illegal for decades.

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