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 14 hours ago


September 19, 2014 




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In This Issue

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Kitty Benzar ,


Last night congress enacted a temporary funding bill to keep the government operating until December 11. House bill HR 5204, which would allow access fees for all federal lands was not included!
Instead, the current law, which authorizes the Forest Service and BLM to charge fees for developed facilities  and prohibits them for access to undeveloped areas was extended to December 11, 2015.
Thanks! to everyone who called, wrote, and emailed your U.S. Representative and Senators.

HR 5204 will be back on the table when congress returns after the election, so we are not done yet. Next steps are detailed below.  



Just before the House adjourned for their August recess, HR 5204 The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Modernization Act of 2014, was introduced by U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) and rammed through the House Resources Committee, without a hearing, by its Chairman, U.S. Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA). Not a single member of the Committee of either party lodged any objection.

The Committee did not even consider HR 5204 on its own merits, or open it up for debate. Instead it was lumped into a package of ten "non-controversial" and "bipartisan" bills that were voted on as a group. The Chairman declared them approved by "unanimous consent," without a roll call, in the final five minutes of a 2 hour meeting, after most of the rest of the Committee members had already left the room. You can see this bogus process in action in the video archived at the House website at this link.

HR 5204, if enacted, could destroy the concept of public lands as places where everyone has access and is welcome. Every place, every activity, every person, could be required to pay a fee - an additional tax on top of the taxes that already support public lands - for access, regardless whether they are highly developed campgrounds and National Parks, or completely undeveloped like Wilderness Areas and backcountry roads and trails.

HR 5204 would allow the kind of fees that have not been controversial to continue, such as fees for developed campgrounds and National Park entrance fees. But in addition to those fees, it would allow general access fees for any federal recreational lands and waters. It would accomplish this by two types of fee: Day Use Fees and Permit Fees

The only meaningful requirement for a Day Use Fee would be that where you park there is a toilet of some kind (could be a porta-potty or a stinky outhouse) within 1/2 mile.

The only meaningful requirement for a Permit Fee would be that where you park gives access to a "special area." Neither "special" nor "area" is defined. The land agencies would have complete discretion to claim that any place at all is a "special area."

So where there is a toilet it could be called a Day Use Fee. Where there is not a toilet, it could be called a Permit Fee. The result is the same: there would not be anyplace where a fee is not allowed. And since the agencies would get to keep all the fee money directly, there would be not be anywhere that they wouldn't have a strong incentive to charge a fee.

Public lands? Forget that. Not any more. Not if this passes.

There is other stuff in HR 5204 (like no more fee-free days, citizenship checks on annual pass holders, and overhead costs rising from 15% to 25%), but they only rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking ship of our public lands.
Thanks to your efforts, HR 5204 was not attached to the Continuing Resolution enacted last night to keep the government funded until December 11. But it is not dead. Congress will reconvene after the election for a lame duck session, and we expect HR 5204 to come roaring back, possibly as a rider on a more permanent "must-pass" appropriations bill.

What can stop it?

If you care about our public lands being turned into commodities available only to those who can afford to pay fees for everything, then you must let YOUR Representative and YOUR Senators hear from you. Tell them that this major change in public policy cannot be allowed, particularly without any public hearing or debate.

HR 5204 lacks any over-arching vision or framework of our public lands being spaces where we all are welcome and have access. Yet it's being supported by groups like the American Recreation Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, and America Outdoors, because it throws a bone here and there to their special interests. For the general public, there is nothing redeeming in this bill, nor any way it could be amended into something acceptable. It represents a complete change in public lands policy, which would be accomplished without public hearings or debate.

Tell your congressional delegation to OPPOSE HR 5204 and TO NOT ALLOW IT TO BE ATTACHED TO AN APPROPRIATIONS BILL!

All the contact information you need can be found at and

Use their webform.
Call their office in Washington.
Call their local office.
Write, phone, fax, drop in in person.

Do all of the above. And if you already did it, then do it again!

Your personal action is urgently needed or this bill WILL PASS!


We've recently learned about a relatively new website where people and organizations can weigh in to Support or Oppose any legislation and send their opinion to congress. The site is PopVox, you can go to it at THIS LINK.
If you type HR 5204 into the PopVox search box, you will be able to see what organizations support and oppose it. Then click on View Report and Comments, and you'll see that opposition from individuals is, as of this writing, running 9-to-1 AGAINST HR 5204, and that the opposition is nationwide.
The site allows you to vote and enter a comment only if you register, because it tallies votes by congressional district. It's not a discussion forum, it's a place where citizens can provide the kind of information that elected officials want in order to best serve their constituents.
Your comments will be posted anonymously, but your member of congress receives them by email with your full name and address included so that they know you are a real constituent and they can respond.
The PopVox site looks like a good way to record and amplify your voice in opposition to HR 5204, and we encourage you to check it out!

The Western Slope No-Fee Coalition is a broad-based organization consisting of diverse interests including hiking, biking, boating, equestrian and motorized enthusiasts, community groups, local and state elected officials, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, and just plain citizens.
Our goals are:
  • To eliminate recreation fees for general access to public lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management
  • To eliminate backcountry fees and interpretive program fees in National Parks
  • To require more accountability within the land management agencies
  • To encourage Congress to adequately fund our public lands
Thank you for your support!
Kitty Benzar
Western Slope No Fee Coalition
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Western Slope No Fee Coalition | P.O. Box 135 | Durango | CO | 81302
Comment by Dana Koogler yesterday

Hi Jim!  :-)  I agree wilderness designation comes at a price and you've hit on a big one.  I am in agreement with you on the logging thing also.  I am familiar with what are considered "Best Practices" on logging.  A friend sold land and I became friends with the new owner.  Long story short I got to learn a lot by being around when the did the logging. It was actually done by WestVACO.   A paper company.  If the US forest service did logging the way the paper companies do.. we'd all be better off.  They did a fabulous job and subsequent trips to that plot of ground have been awesome!  Tons of deer, birds, turkey, etc. 

Kenny and I have an ATV and go four-wheeling.  Catoosa has been logged and it is well managed. Lots of deer, coyotes, bear, turkey, birds.    

I admit I still act like a girl and break down and cry sometimes when I go to an area that is logged and recall how it was before.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to quit doing that entirely.  It upsets me, but on an intellectual level I understand it.  I would have a complete melt down though if Snowbird was ever sold and logged. 

Tennessee offers a multitude of outdoor opportunities because it is re-using land that has been logged, mined, etc.   I have learned to seek out land in TN that is in what I call a state of benign neglect.  It is forgotten and left alone for public use.  It may not stay that way, but counties in TN where there is a high poverty level .. you find that.   It has its advantages for a rogue like me.  :-) 

Comment by Jim Casada yesterday

Dana--There are good reasons for your internal alarms to go off. The BLM does not have a good reputation, or indeed anything approaching that, from the perspective of sportsmen. I won't even attempt to get into details other than to note that wilderness designation comes with lots of dangers because it casts bureaucrats in the role of God.

I would add that I think you might want to dig into the issue of logging a bit deeper. It is by no means all bad, and it should be remembered that a key function of national forests going right back to Gifford Pinchot was management (that translates to selective logging), not just preservation. Properly and selectively done, logging is actually a quite positive thing from the standpoint of both flora and fauna. Grouse,for example, do best where there has been cutting and an "edge" effect has been created. The same is true, albeit not to quite the same degree, of other species such as elk, deer, and turkeys. If you've ever wondered why there are comparatively few deer in the GSMNP, outside of Cades Cove, the answer is that old growth forest (which with 75+ years of succession virtually all of the Park is) does not offer them ideal habitat.

It isn't just game animal which enter into the picture, although on a personal level that's what I know best. Various types of sun-loving plant species need open areas to thrive or even survive. Mind you, too much logging can damage streams (siltation), and it certainly isn't pretty. The flip side is that the needed logging roads can be very useful in situations where access is needed to fight fires, they provide useful means of access to hikers (total wilderness designation COULD include no maintained trails), and economic considersations cannot be overlooked. For example, Graham County, NC depends in considerable measure on logging in the Nantahala National Forest for survival.

In short, it's a complex issue, but the one thing we are likely in total agreement on is that the BLM has an absolutely awful track record when it comes to this kind of issues. 

Jim Casada

Comment by Dana Koogler yesterday

I read something in the past couple days that says to me the need to keep public lands fee free is a bigger deal than I even dared think!  I was seeing the designation "Wilderness Study Area" attached to some public lands and wondered what that meant?  What it means if I am understanding it correctly is that these areas are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which is run by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.  They set these areas aside for a time and study the land qualities and characteristics and uses. They may in time deem them a wilderness and afford the area permanent protection or decide to release the land for "non-wilderness uses".   In my mind I think of the BLM being primarily concerned with lands out West and massive tracts of land. So apparently that is not the case. They are here in the East too.  Given what we now know about the US Dept. of the Interior, some of the doings out west with the BLM.. it is greater cause for concern to me.  To me Non wilderness uses could mean logging, mining, selling the property to a private developer. None of those things is good in my mind.  I've taken this seriously from the start, but nothing has lit a match under me quit like finding out the BLM is attached to managing some of these areas I like right here close to home.  The Upper Bald River Wilderness is a "study area" and so is Snowbird.  I recall working on a letter writing campaign for the Upper Bald River area , but the full implications are just now hitting me.  I want to contact Jeff Hunter to see what the latest developments are on that. On all of it. He will know.

Comment by Jim Casada on Friday

Adam's mention of a friend dropping his GSMA membership goes pretty much to the heart of the matte. His rants, endless personal attacks of a mean, even vicious nature, and unwillingness even to consider other viewpoints (no matter how carefully stated), have actually in some ways been decidedly advantageous to SFW. It has brought attention to the organization's efforts, caused people to pay attention to the issues at hand, and in general focused attention on SFW's concerns. To me, aberrant behavior aside,those things have been positives.

Jim Casada

Comment by Jo Jackson - Neuspickel on Friday

Just went to gosmokies to find Gary Wilson and he is no longer a member!! Imagine that!!

Comment by John Quillen on Friday


It appears as if the Unabagger has been kicked off gosmokies entirely.  Which is ironic because he accused SFW of being "kicked off every blog" in the area.  I suspect that he has quite a hangover this morning and if not, will by the time he gets to work.  I have a phone call in to GSMA director Terry Maddux and am awaiting his response.  I was also forwarded a couple of emails, in addition to what Adam mentioned, from folks who have contacted Maddux about Wilson's manic episode last night,.  I suspect that the GSMA is beginning to  realize that their digital media specialist has become a liability they can no longer afford.

Comment by Tom Johnson on Friday

Looks like many of the comments on the gosmokies blog were deleted.  Hit and Run

Comment by Adam Beal on Friday

I showed the gomokies blog to a friend yesterday who finally agreed it was time to drop his GSMA membership this is pretty outrageous. He is going to email the entire board there along with several directors and committee members. I totally respect someones right to disagree and will fight for that but so many personal attacks in this case have just gone way beyond that. Good news though it has really got lots of people stirred up again which was really needed to fight this new bill! 

Comment by Jim Casada on Friday

Dan--I thought about giving a bit of my travel background on GoSmokies--I've lived roughly five years of my life in the British Isles, mostly in three-month of so segments as a researcher back in my academic days, have traveled in a good portion of mainland Europe, have fished in Africa and hunted in New Zealand, spent appreciable outdoor time in every Canadian province, made multiple sporting trips to Alaska, etc. I rather suspect others have comparable or greater travel experience, but it is fairly obvious (at least to me) that Gary has some significant issues. No amount of posting, no counter arguments, no degree of logic will change that. Possibly a trip or twelve to a specialist might, but that's beyond my range.

I realized that he was a volatile, totally unpredictable fellow when, many months ago, he said in a National Parks Traveler post that he wasn't going to comment any more. He was back in hours and I simply pointed out to him he had gone back on what he had previously stated. That set him off on a whole new series of rants justifying breaking his word. He could give lessons to mendacious politicians.

Jim Casada

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