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 Saturday

You're right Erik,  looks like the GSMA has deleted my comment.  I tried to repost it but they have me blocked.  Good thing the GSMA doesn't exercise any censorship as a "non profit" park related entity.  Then again, we all saw the hack job website they put up about us.   What's also funny is they have apparently set up a system to keep people from "disliking" the video because I had a friend tell me she couldn't post or vote on the video from another computer.   The NPS folk are good at suppressing any criticism of their "work".   

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on Saturday


When I went initially to view the linked GSMA video on YouTube your comment didn't appear in my browser, and it still doesn't. Thus my tongue-in-cheek "shocked" post of last night.

As for those County Commission votes, everyone who spoke brought some unique point, angle, or perspective. It couldn't have been better coordinated if we had tried.

At the time, I mostly got the emotion -- the passion -- that our side of the aisle won in a landslide. But to go back and view it 2 years later, there were so many "winning" points that were touched or hammered on by all that spoke. I'm grateful to have been -- and to be -- teamed up with such a knowledgeable and dedicated group.

I hope you're right about Alexander. There's certainly a part of me that asks how long any politician can last that can't carry his/her home county (Tip O'Neill's All Politics Is Local).   

Comment by John Quillen on Saturday

That was a watershed moment, Erik.  Hard to believe it has been two years!  Aside from the great, impassioned speeches made by members of this forum, I will have to say that next to Donna Davis, your grand finale was the death blow for Ditmanson and Alexander.  I distinctly remember watching you come in and thinking, "Who is this guy?"  Then when you got up and started listing the parks that DON'T charge a backcountry fee it was a slam dunk for this cause.  Lamar lost his home county in the election last year and that commission meeting was the precursor.  I can't help but feel as if this group started changing that tide.  I have had several folks from Blount County thank us for calling him and Blackberry Farm to task.  

Here is a link to that commission meeting for folks who didn't get a chance to see it. It was one of our finest hours!

One other politician that has helped us is state Rep Harry Brooks.  He got the Tn State House to pass a resolution condemning the fee that was signed by the speaker of the House following the Blount County Resolution.  

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on February 21, 2015 at 8:05am

Happy 2nd Anniversary to all on the passage of the Blount County Resolution! Thanks, again, to John and Myers, Jennifer Jones, Tab Burkhalter, and Tonya Burchfield; also Adam, Andrew, Dan, Dave, David, Donna, Gregg, Janet, Janice, Jennifer, Jim, Jo, Joey, John, Mark, Mike, Rob, Steve, Tim, Tom . . .  and so many more who have added to this forum and this cause with their insights, energy, passion, and prayers.

Going back to that initial Blount Co. resolution, it was one of the prouder moments of civic engagement I've experienced. Despite the efforts of a hometown U.S. Senator, our position was affirmed. What are the odds of that? 

Thank you, and rest in peace, Commissioner Gordon Wright. 

Comment by John Quillen on February 21, 2015 at 7:43am


I'm surprised they have let my comments stay this long.  I'm guessing they haven't checked the video lately but here is what I posted beneath it.

If the GSMA were truly supporting the preservation of the Smokies, they would be producing a film showing the high impact of Llamas upon a fragile trail system.  8 Llamas to three mules?  Let's do a poop by poop comparison.  There are studies regarding the invasive species disseminated by non native animals feces into the ecosystem.  Not to mention the continued degradation of fragile trails all to support a commercial operation inside public lands.  This is quite irresponsible on behalf of the GSMA.  

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on February 20, 2015 at 10:45pm

What comments would those be, John?

I'm shocked.

Comment by John Quillen on February 20, 2015 at 7:03pm

The Great Smoky Mtns Association, presumably under the direction of the Unabagger, Gary Wilson, have produced this fine documentary outlining the benefits of running a Llama train up to Mt. Leconte.  Ironically, it is called "Grandstand of the Smokies"   I will let my comments on the video suffice, until they remove them.

Comment by Jim Casada on February 20, 2015 at 2:52pm

Methinks it is time to send a letter, quoting this information on FOIA, and ask for the material or an explanation.

Jim Casada

Comment by John Quillen on February 20, 2015 at 2:37pm

The time it takes to respond to each request varies depending on the complexity of the request itself and the backlog of requests already pending at the agency. In some circumstances, the agency will be able to respond to the request within the standard time limit established by the FOIA – approximately one month. In other instances more time may be needed before the request can be completed. When an agency requires an extension of time, it will notify you in writing and provide you with an opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request. Under certain conditions, you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. The websites for each agency can provide more information on this process. 

The NPS has neither notified us of a delay or complied within one month.  Perhaps the information we are requesting is too damning or they are trying to wait us out on on the lawsuit.

Comment by Myers Morton on February 20, 2015 at 12:59pm

"Fuzzy Math"

These federal bureaucrats (GSMNP) are apparently refusing to respond to our latest legal FOIA requests.  It is amazing how these people think the law does not apply to them.

The time is apparently coming where a second lawsuit against this federal agency will be filed.  Mark, these efforts you are making will be invaluable.

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