BACKCOUNTRY TAX FEEASCO the unedited and uncensored edition

Our original Backcountry Tax blog on the gosmokies site was moderated by some folks who held an opinion in favor of backcountry fees.  As a result the blog operator, Jigsha Desai made several threats to shut us down but we remained in operation because it was the most popular blog post in the history of that site.  We decided to take our conversation to a place where our message wouldn't be suppressed.  This blog is the result.

Therefore, it is our collective opinion that the Backcountry Fee Proposal put out By Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson and backcountry specialist Melissa Cobern is an egregious reach into the pockets of taxpaying citizens. 

A prominent study proves that access fees restrict use of National Park and forest lands.

The primary justification of the backcountry fee proposal made by park administration is campsite overcrowding which was proven false.  Click here for details and statistics to prove this fallacy for exactly what it is.  A federal fee grab.

Park management cozies up to the horse lobby but proposes a tax on  backpackers who are the best citizens of the Great Smoky Mountains.  In fact, Ditmanson recently signed off on a new horse concession smack dab in the middle of Cades Cove. is touted as a solution for reservation problems in the backcountry office but this Canadian based company is frought with problems.  72 hour reservations are required for the empty Smokies campsites you will be paying for the privilege of using.  Forget spontaneous weekend outings with the family.  Better pull out the wallet, you are going to pay just to talk to them.

This is not about money for any of us.  We love the Smokies and actually get out there and know the lies being spread by the Sugarlands swashbucklers.  It is a matter of deciding what type of National Park you want.  Should boy scout groups and single mothers and twenty somethings be discouraged from nature because of trumped up justifications for more rangers?  We think not.  Help us stop this double taxation now.  One fee will result in another.  We must make a stand.

(picture courtesy Kittzy Benzar, Western Slope No fee coalition)

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Comment by Dustin M on April 24, 2017 at 10:01pm

That guy gets it!

Comment by John Quillen on April 24, 2017 at 8:55pm

I propose we hire this guy to run the Smokies.  It just proves the NPS CAN do what they want, provided they want to.

Comment by John Quillen on April 20, 2017 at 10:10am

I smell a precancerous fee cell spreading to the Appalachian Trail.

Comment by Dustin M on April 16, 2017 at 9:01pm


Comment by John Quillen on April 16, 2017 at 8:39pm

The new director at Ijam's is obviously pissed.  Wait till she sees what I've got in mind for the QUARRY!  There are boaters who are ready to have us move full bore on their behalf now. (it's a long article, if you want the meat of it, scroll down below the navitat picture and start reading)

Comment by John Quillen on April 7, 2017 at 8:57pm

There is one honest journalist at the News Sentinel.  Thank you, Travis Dorman for your due diligence.

Ijams to reopen climbing crag before watchdog group sues

Travis Dorman , USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee7:51 p.m. ET April 7, 2017

(Photo: Paul Efird)


More than six months after Ijams Nature Center closed Knoxville's main outdoor climbing spot due to a lack of insurance, the park announced Friday it will reopen the crag by giving the land back to the city.

The nonprofit park previously had a contract with Knoxville for ownership of the land that required it to maintain "personal injury liability insurance covering the premises." By ceding the crag, Ijams' leadership can avoid finding a private insurer to cover unsupervised climbing, which proved difficult and time-consuming.

Beginning Saturday, climbers will once again be able to use the Ijams crag free of charge, provided they sign liability waivers. Ijams' agreement with the city is temporary while the park works out a long-term solution, according to a news release.

Ijams closed the crag on Sept. 19 after a four-month-long search for liability insurance yielded only one option, which administrators were surprised to learn didn't cover free climbing. After the closure, only supervised climbing and instruction classes were permitted on the crag, meaning climbers had to pay to play.

Members of Knoxville's small but dedicated climbing community who worked thousands of hours to prepare the crag for public use — known as the Crag Committee or the Quarry Boys — were devastated by the unexpected development.

Eight days later, then-Executive Director Paul James stepped down to be replaced temporarily by former director Bo Townsend. Townsend filled the position for nearly five months until Ijams hired Amber Parker, who took the reins on Feb. 20.

Parker attributes those changes in leadership, in part, for the length of time it took to reopen the crag.

"But also because there was a lot of due diligence that had to happen," she said in a phone interview Friday. "We had to work with the insurance companies; we had to look for other insurers that might be willing to cover that. ... And really we could not find another private insurer that works with organizations like us that was willing to. So then we had to go back to the city and there had to be those negotiations and discussions, so it's just taken a while."

John Quillen, the board president of an an environmental watchdog group called Southern Forest Watch, suggested back in December that Ijams resolve the insurance issue by giving the land back to the city. The organization, which lost a 2013 lawsuit against the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over its implementation of back country fees, threatened in November "to take the next steps" if the crag was not reopened.

Once 2017 began, displeased with Ijams' lack of progress on the issue, Quillen met with members of his organization, the Quarry Boys and a team of lawyers to form a "legal action plan" to force the park to reopening the crag.

Quillen was eager to charge ahead with a lawsuit based on the premise that by denying free access to the public, the park allegedly broke agreements with companies that donated money for the crag's development.

But the Quarry Boys favored diplomacy rather than coercion, and met at least twice with Parker to discuss the issue.

"They weren’t wanting to burn any bridges with Ijams or the climbing community," said Southern Forest Watch member Laurel Dunn, who called the Quarry Boys "really nice guys."

Amber Parker (Photo: Courtesy of Chincoteague Bay)

The Quarry Boys came away "very impressed" with Parker, who member Micah McCrotty said "seems genuinely interested in the community."

"We came away from that meeting thinking she actually wants to get this done," he said. "And so John’s a great guy and he does great work, but we had full confidence that she would take care of it, and we knew it was going to be a matter of time."

Quillen said Southern Forest Watch planned to send a letter to Ijams on Monday outlining the potential lawsuit.

Parker said she knew "absolutely nothing" of the threat of legal action, and said, "if that were in existence I would know about it."

"We have really good relations with the climbing community," she said. "I've met with the Crag Committee and they understood the constraints that we had. They're already aware that the crag is open. They're very excited, so, you know, relations are good."

"This has been an ongoing process for quite a while and it just happened to culminate right about the time that i got here," she added. "It's been hard work on the part of Knoxville city and the previous leadership here to make that happen. I just happened to be able to come in and snatch a little glory at the end.

"I'm just really glad to be here for it. Certainly really all the credit goes to the folks that have worked so hard to make it happen."


Comment by John Quillen on April 7, 2017 at 3:14pm

Some good news.  It appears as if Ijam's climbing crag will open tomorrow. Apparently they are ceding the land back to the city.  What a great idea!  Congratulations to the Quarry boys.  Thanks Myers for helping assist the Quarry boys and moving the ball forward.  They are very appreciative

Comment by John Quillen on April 7, 2017 at 8:18am

When a retired Ranger makes accusations against the Park Service about their dereliction in the face of the fire and adds to it that another Ranger refused to kill a bear that was feeding on a park visitor several years earlier this same reporter did not find that newsworthy. I sent that same reporter links to both those stories that were published on this Rangers Facebook page but it wasn't until that Ranger stood up at a city council meeting and other media Outlets picked it up that someone thought it deserving of attention.  Let me reiterate a retired Ranger had to shoot and kill a bear that was feeding on a Park Visitor while one of his colleagues stood there and watched ​the the whole thing and did nothing. When Ranger Jerry Grubb complained about it he was told to go home and not file a report. And the supervisor who instructed him to do so is still employed at Sugarlands. But all the News Sentinel seems fit to publish is exalting to Rangers who apparently did their job for once.  In retrospect perhaps that really is a news story.  The new Smokies reporter has been sprinkled with the same National Park Service fairy dust as the old one. 

Comment by John Quillen on April 7, 2017 at 8:10am

This is the Knoxville News Sentinel response to a wildfire that killed 14 people which is now generally accepted was in part the responsibilities of the National Park Service.

Comment by John Quillen on March 31, 2017 at 11:33am


You are famous!

Camping fee fight picks up steam

By Joe King

What began as a way to oppose the start of a camping fee at Frozen Head State Park has grown from Morgan County to the entire state.

<div class="source">JOE KING/MORGAN COUNTY NEWS</div><div class="image-desc">Morgan County Executive Don Edwards listens visitors who are upset about the Frozen Head State Park camping fees. </div><div class="buy-pic"><a href="/photo_select/38245">Buy this photo</a></div>
Morgan County Executive Don Edwards listens visitors who are upset about the Frozen Head State Park camping fees.

Not only did the Morgan County Commission pass a resolution expressing its opposition to the fee, but the resolution is also being sent to the governing bodies of all the other 94 counties in the state in hopes of gaining support to oppose similar fees across the state.

“The common sense of the Morgan County Commission is impressive, and we really appreciate their foreword thinking on the issue,’ said John Quillin, a frequent Frozen Head visitor who helped bring the issue to the attention of the commission. “ When a resolution is passed in all other counties, I think it should start a groundswell of awareness, and hopefully we can use that momentum to get some legislation passed. This affects places like Morgan County that depends on tourism dollars, and what they are going to lose because people like us are not going to come to Morgan County because of the fee.”

The resolution lays out the county’s opposition to the fee, calling it “double taxation.” The resolution also states the county is worried the fee will decrease the number of people who visit the county to come to Frozen Head, which is in opposition to the county’s goals of growing tourism.

“We don’t want to run anybody off,” Morgan County Executive Don Edwards said. “We need people to come here, like it, build a house and stay with us. We need people here. We don’t need to be setting up walls and roadblocks.”

According to a release sent by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the fee for a regular four-six person site will be $3 plus tax per night. Those sites include Bird Mountain, Coffin Springs, North Old Mac, Panther Branch, Panther Gap Rock House and Spicewood. The fee for larger group sites will be $8 plus tax per night and includes Judge Branch, Mart Fields, Squire Knob and Tub Springs. In addition, a $5 charge will be applied once per reservation. With both the “fee” and “charge” that means the small site would cost more than $8 and the large site would be just more than $13 for a night stay. Entrance to the park will remain free.

It was also announced in that same release that the fee along with a new registration system will be implemented April 1. Although the fee is set to take affect, Edwards still hopes the commissions voice will be heard.

“It’s been implemented, but things like that are not set in stone,” Edwards said. “It seems very contradictory that just last year the Tennessee General Assembly came out against The Great Smoky Mountains having a fee, but then they allow it under the state parks, which is under their purview. There isn’t anything they can do about the Smoky Mountains, but they can do something about the state parks. That’s oxymoronic.”

State Rep. John Mark Windle has stated his opposition to the fee, and has asked that it be removed. However, it appears that fee will not be changed despite local opposition to it.

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