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


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.


This lawsuit will have implications for the entire NPS system and their culture of fee abuses that are rampant. The smart move for the new superintendent is to drop this hot potato before the ugliness of political patronage is raised and a lot of wealthy people get embarrassed. They lied, cheated and stole to push this fee down the throats of backcountry users to the exclusion of all other parties. It's time to make things right in the Smokies and drop Ditmanson's folly.

Agreed this fee business has gone way too far it is time to take our parks back. I just wish there was someone in the park service who disagreed with these kind of policies and stood up for that belief. I realize it might put their career on the line but sometimes standing up for what you believe is worth it in the end no matter the cost.

hikerBA -

We all hope people in either the public or private sector would "do the right thing" and stand up against wrongdoing, even it it costs them their careers. That's a noble sentiment, and easy for us to say when our job (and family's livelihood) isn't the one on the line.

It's a bit like the pig and chicken discussing ham and eggs for breakfast. It sounds fine to the chicken, who can easily afford to be generous.

That said, your comment presumes these backcountry camping fees are an example of wrongdoing. Based on multiple comments on this site about this issue over the past year, most people would prefer not to have the fees, but not everyone agrees they the kind of "evil" deed that requires sacrificing a career to oppose. [Yes, SmokiesBackpackers, we've heard all of your complaints and charges plenty of times, so no need to repeat them again.]

It seems the NPS has a culture of loosing you job if you speak up about your beliefs. No wonder the NPS policies are so screwed up. This explains the "I don't agree with this but I'm just doing my job" I have been hearing from NPS for years.

You are probably right Mtnliving I also assume most if not all of the nps people will tow the line. I don't expect them to object after all these new fees help pay their salaries. Our national parks are changing quickly. Luckily the national forests don't charge yet so there is a place folks can still go and experience the freedom of the woods and not have to pay others to enjoy it but I expect that will someday change as well.

Congrats to SFW. Glad that someone has the guts and persistence to see this through. Was simply disgusting all the lies that NPS told in an effort to justify the fee.

While no one like added fees, I for one am happy to pay for the things I truly enjoy. I am all in favor of user fees over being forced to pay for services that I never use.

It's pathetically amusing that some folks who may on one hand decry fees for services may also be the same who are lamenting paying taxes.

If we insist on Tea Party taxation, what will happen to the things and services they all seem to want at the same time?

It comes down basically to one thing, "I am an American. Therefore I am entitled to anything I want as long as I don't have to pay for it."

Uh, yeah. But how?

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