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 John Quillen on December 23, 2011 at 9:59am

I received a letter from the NPS in Atlanta indicating that they found a way to get me a summary of the comments on the backcountry fee proposal at a greatly reduced price.  It arrived in the mail last week.  They asked me to drop the appeal through my attorney, we decided that wasn't such a good idea until we had documents in hand.  The other day I contacted the regional office again to ask about the status of the documents.  The lady there indicated that she had requested them from the Sugarlands but for some reason, hadn't received them.  This means that Ditz and Fitz are witholding the comments on the fee proposal for some reason, probably to even the comments up like the News Sentinel did with this article about the fee proposal.  Original fee article

When it was brought to my attention a week ago that the KNS had disabled the comments on the article for no apparent reason, several folks contacted them to ask why.  Jack Lail, under pressure, reluctantly reposted the comments but disabled anyone's ability to make further comments.  It is apparent that there is obvious suppression of the public opinion of the FEEasco.  One theory about the disabling of comments, like the shutting down of backcountry tax blog, is the great headache it causes the Sugarlands when their motives are outed.  As I studied the reposted comments, I noticed that several of the anti fee remarks were removed.  There were over 100 comments before the article was removed, now there are 89.  It is obvious they "evened" them up.  If you posted a comment over there, better make sure it didn't get removed.

Comment by John Quillen on December 23, 2011 at 12:04am

Several years ago they proposed a wheel tax in Knoxville.  Ostensibly, it was to build a new school but that, of course, didn't happen.  The tax, of course, remains today. 

Comment by Joey Bridges on December 22, 2011 at 3:37pm

as a long time, hard core mt. bike rider/racer, i used to wonder about why bikes weren't allowed in the park, pisgah and big south fork are great examples of how all three user groups can operate in symbiotic harmony.

and as a downhill rider/racer, i'd love to see trails like,

snake den ridge.

brushy mt.

bull head.

etc... used for once a year, sanctioned downhill races.

they would be outstanding courses to run on.

but......i fully understand why they should not be allowed in.

most riders would have respect for other users, trail beds etc....

but there's always those who buzz hikers, horses, ride when trails are too wet, drag their brakes etc.....

they'd ruin it for everyone else.

let the horseback riders have the sole reputation as destructive forces on the tail beds.

Comment by John Quillen on December 22, 2011 at 3:30pm

Real quick.  I have made things where when you click   It will take you here.  The old url will still get you here as well.  Jim suggested this and I finally purchased the domain and I think that makes things easier.  Now just tell folks go to       Thanks

Comment by Jim Casada on December 22, 2011 at 12:44pm

Maggie--Goats eat everything, so they wouldn't be welcome (but they are great destroyers of kudzu if anyone has problems with that invasive plant, and cabrito is mighty fine eating).

You struck a sort of responsive chord with me as regards bicycles.  I've often thought that the near-total ban on bikes in the backcountry was less than logical.  I can see the reasoning for no trail bikes on true trails, but goodly portions of what are called trails on the N. C. side of the Park are actually gravel roads--think Deep Creek for 2.5 miles, Indian Creek for several miles, and the major North Shore streams (Noland, Forney, Hazel, and Eagle creeks).  Add miles on Bradley Fork and probably several others which don't come to me off the top of my head, and you have plenty of places where a bike could go with no damage.  Yet according to Park regulations they are several limited--only two or three places (part of Deep Creek and Indian Creek, along with one other).  On the other hand, you can take a Hazel Creek buggy up that stream.  The inconsistencies are glaring, and I'll guarantee that any bike does far less damage than a horse.  Strangely, when I've made this contrast to various superintendents, they have had no reply whatsoever.

Jim Casada

Comment by Jim Casada on December 22, 2011 at 10:49am

Allyson--I'm pleased you are adding your voice to this site, and I'd like to offer my thoughts on a couple of the points you raise.  First of all, there's no real reason the Park shouldn't address the break-in problem at the Alum Cave trailhead.  Cameras or a relatively inexpensive possibility, and I guarantee that one undercover operation which caught culprits and prosecuted them in a meaningful way would have significant salutary impact.  That has happened in the Park's history, multiple times, in the past.  I assume it's a matter of what is a priority for Sugarlands, but the solution awaits action.

I'm glad you mentioned horses.  I just hope you would take the same step I have taken (and I'd strongly encourage anyone reading these words to do the same) in this regard.  Send a letter to Dale Ditmanson and point out what is the obvious reality--horses are doing a great deal of environmental damage.

I guess backcountry is a matter of perspective.  The lodge lies a few miles from the nearest road, but its amenities and the large human presence there mean, for me, that it doesn't qualify as backcountry.  The same thing holds true for most of the AT shelters.  On the other hand, I would consider the campsite at Bearpen Branch on Noland Creek or at Bumgardner Branch on Deep Creek backcountry.  The difference is that they provide a reasonable degree of isolation and a sense of "back of beyond."

As for the fees, we are just at opposite ends of the spectrum. 

I would close by stating that I think you, and anyone with concessionaire privileges or permitting from the Park, have  special impact thanks to being a known quantity.  I can also understand why anyone in your position would be reluctant to speak out in opposition to any Park policy or proposal for reasons of "don't bite the hand that feeds you" nature.

Jim Casada

Comment by John Quillen on December 22, 2011 at 10:26am


I want to welcome you to our site and I appreciate your comments.  As a point of clarification, with all the baiting that did go on over on GoSmokies, I don't implicate you.  Most of it was in the form of those pseudonyms who cowardly hide behind the skirt of anonymity and were likely goaded by someone else.  And for the record, I don't have any problem with you as a person.  I know several people who think very highly of you and we have some mutual friends.  We are on different sides of this issue.

Do I blame you for Alum Cave vehicle break ins?  Of course not.  Do I think the NPS could do more?  Hell yes. Would Ditz like to hide those numbers from the public?  What do you think?  It's bad P.R. like the FEEasco.  You tell me why there are no cameras in the parking lot?  They are a lot cheaper than Rangers that he is trying to "saddle" us backpackers with.  I also feel like the reason there is such bad behavior on Alum Trail is because the mere existence of a lodge drives unseasoned daywalkers to a place they shouldn't have attempted in the first place. This stuff doesn't happen on other 6000 foot peaks in the park.  Why?  That false sense of security given by the presence of a lodge up there.  Same thing with shelters.  How many times have I encountered shelter morons who ask me where to find the tapwater is or trash can. 

So no, for those reasons, I don't consider Leconte backcountry.  Anyplace with heat, a spigot and constant llama train to the top with no tent camping available isn't backcountry to me.  As for suggestions, anything that keeps the Smokies Fee free is on the table in my mind.

Comment by Allyson Virden on December 22, 2011 at 8:24am

Well, I guess I am the one falling for the "bait". So here I am. I will try to address the comments aimed towards me.

Let's see the first one was something about me "baiting" you all by putting an idea out there and wanting to know what you thought. I am truly sorry that it was taken that way. I grew up in a house that taught us kids that you didn't always get what you wanted so getting something was better then nothing. The idea of a compromise was a sincere proposal. You can ask the members on here that do know me. I am all about listening to the opposing side and trying to work out a solution that works for both sides.

Now, on to the next issues. Something was mentioned about Alum Cave parking lot. I am sorry that I did not realize this was addressed at me and I was expected to answer. I have had my car broken into five times in the last nine years. I agree that there are many areas in the park that need something done. Unfortunately, when you don't have law enforcement on duty from midnight until the early morning hours, there is time for the thieves to do their work without being noticed.

As for dogs on the trail. It is not our guests that bring the dogs. We do not allow any hiker with a dog to enter the camp boundries. I have been known to stand in the trail and ask hikers to turn around. I am glad these dayhikers did not realize that I am a peon and have no authority to be doing that.

Horses was  the next issue. I don't care for the trails that have horse access. I try not hike on those trails. Do I agree that horse users bring a lot of trash into the backcountry? Yes. I think you are giving me more authority then I have. I am an employee of the company that owns LeConte. I do not work for the park. It does not matter what I think. I have no influence on park policy.

Now, I would like to address a comment that has been brought up time and time again. "Mt. LeConte is not the backcountry". I can understand how you would think that if you like solitude and enjoy staying in the campsites that do not have much traffic. I do beg to differ. I find it a hard argument to swallow when my crew and myself have performed CPR on a person for 2 hours while waiting on a park medic to arrive to the scene to determine the patient dead.  It is a hard argument to agree with when you have to carry a body to the top of the mountain because they had a heart attack on the trail and froze to death. There are no ambulances that come to the top. If there is a medical emergency weather dictates as to whether lifestar can fly or not. I agree that Mt. LeConte gets a lot of traffic, but when dealing with a life or death emergencies, I have to argue that it is the backcountry.

I also want to say that after I put my idea on the site for discussion, Seth came up with another great idea. This is the type of debate I was aiming for. I think Seth should send a letter to Friends of the Smokies and suggest the sale of the license plates in other states.

Comment by frank w on December 21, 2011 at 10:54pm
It's really awesome to see this site taking shape with so many familiar names. I think Juggler and esquire could also benefit from such a wonderful site like this...c'mon boys.
Comment by John Quillen on December 21, 2011 at 10:46pm


I obviously lost that filter about being careful about what I say.  I work with drug abusers/addicts so reality is a fleeting notion at times.  When you look at folks being careful, I think about Jim Casada, Johnny Molloy and others who stand to suffer financially because of their beliefs about this fee proposal like myself.  There comes a time when we all make an important stand and the God of my understanding will and always has provided for me, despite how many folks I may piss off on any given day.  It has been said that many live quiet lives of simple desperation.  I refuse and am glad you choose that path as well.  Bill would be proud!

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