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 October 12, 2017 at 1:04pm

Jim's comments mirror the ones I left at NPT about motorcycles. And I want to be specific.  Harley Davidson motorcycles, which are engineered for noise.  As a motorcyclist myself, I detest the intrusion of that din deep into the backcountry.  Do I think the NPS will tackle either on their own?  No.  There are rules about overflights and they are strictly banned.  PEER is having to sue to make the NPS enforce their own rules.  Ditmanson types avoided enforcing the overflight rules because it involves Sevier county tourism, pure and simple.  They are cowardly relying on the "walk in the woods" type guides to do their dirty work for them, yet again.  And it will benefit her in continued steering of clients to her business.  Just another level of what they did for the NPS with the backcountry tax.

Comment by Jim Casada on October 12, 2017 at 12:49pm

Interestingly, most of the air tour traffic seems to be on the TN side of the Park (and that's fine with this old NC guy). Personally, what I find really disturbing when it comes to noise isn't the planes but motorcycles. Some of them can be heard for miles, especially when they are on the higher reaches of the Newfound Gap Road. It seems some of the riders aren't happy until the blooming things are roaring at an ear-shattering decibel level.

Then there are horses (on trail and off), the folks who take dogs into the backcountry, Deep Creek tubers, and a bunch of other irritants. I reckon I'm just a curmudgeon, but there's no doubt in my mind that the NPS folks are highly selective when it comes to enforcing regulations.

Jim Casada

Comment by Dustin M on October 12, 2017 at 12:42pm

We were just talking the other day on Facecrook about all the airplane crashes inside the Park. 

Comment by John Quillen on October 12, 2017 at 11:38am

* In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the owner of a tour guide company whose work and personal life have been disrupted by over 800 annual overflights which interrupt silent walks and destroy a key purpose of the guided tours - positive experiences with nature - by causing employees and customers to want to duck every fifteen minutes from the constant buzzing overhead; and..

I suspect we know who the tour operator is. However, I probably agree with HER on this particular issue.

Comment by Andrew Sisson on October 9, 2017 at 10:08pm

I emailed my Georgia Senators just now....

Comment by Dustin M on October 8, 2017 at 10:42pm

Going to have to print it out tomorrow and snail mail it. 

Comment by John Quillen on October 8, 2017 at 10:39pm

Thanks for your diligence, Dustin.  I just sent emails to both Lameass and  Bob Corker, who just rose about 100% in my estimation today alone. (Of course, Lameass's email server is down and they couldn't accept my comments)

Comment by Dustin M on October 8, 2017 at 10:36pm

It's a never ending fight. I will share the information. Thanks 

Comment by John Quillen on October 8, 2017 at 10:34pm

Kitty just sent this out.

Permit fees for individual use of "special areas" opens the door to requiring fees for anyone to do anything, anywhere on federal public lands.  
A bill that is being promoted as a benign revision to the way permits for guides and outfitters are administered contains a few tricky words that amount to a booby trap for the public because they could be used to charge fees for all access to our federal public lands.

The bill is HR289, the Guides and Outfitters Act, or GO Act.  The bulk of the bill would affect those holding permits to provide commercial guiding services or conducting organized or competitive events. The WSNFC takes no position on those parts of the bill.

But that's not all that's in it!

There are a few words in Section 2 that would be a giant step backward toward charging fees to the general public -

"For specialized individual and group use of Federal facilities and Federal recreational lands and waters, such as, but not limited to, use of special areas or areas where use is allocated, motorized recreational vehicle use, and group activities or events."

The underlined words would take us right back to the bad old days of Fee Demo. Under that unlimited authority, the agencies could and did, on several National Forests and thousands of acres of undeveloped BLM-managed lands, charge a fee for anyone to do anything, anywhere. The public responded then with outrage, which is why the current fee law that replaced Fee Demo contains significant restrictions on what fees can be charged. Congress imposed those restrictions in direct response to public outcry against Fee Demo. This proposed language would be an end-run around them.
Neither "specialized use" nor "special area" is defined. The land agencies would have complete discretion to call any activity a "specialized use" and to designate any place at all as a "special area." For example, an entire National Forest or all the BLM lands in a whole state could be declared to be a "special area" and any visit to such an area could be declared to be a "specialized use." There would be nothing to stop that. And since the agencies get to keep all recreation fee money directly, there would not be anywhere that they wouldn't have a strong incentive to charge a fee.

Another worrisome aspect is the bill's use of the phrase
"such as but not limited to"
Those six words open the trap door even wider, since the agencies could add absolutely anything to the list of examples in the bill. Remember that failure to pay a federal recreation fee is a federal misdemeanor, with penalties that can go as high as a $100,000 fine and/or a year of incarceration. No law that carries criminal penalties should ever contain a phrase like "such as but not limited to" - it's an open invitation to agency abuse. There would be nothing to stop them from administratively adding things that require fees to the list of examples in the bill, transforming law-abiding citizens into criminals if they don't pay those fees.

The Bill sailed through the House Natural Resources Committee and was passed by the full House on October 2nd. It has been sent to the Senate for their consideration and possible concurrence. It's essential that every Senator hear from their constituents before this bill goes any further toward being enacted. The part of Section 2 that allows the agencies to define for themselves what is a "specialized use" or a "special area" must be removed.


Find your two Senators at the website of the Senate (select your state). Click on each one's constituent contact form. Use the form to write each of them a short polite note telling them that you oppose the language in HR289 that authorizes fees for all access by the general public to federal lands and want it removed.

Here is some suggested language you might use. Please modify and personalize this with your specific concerns so that your message won't be dismissed as a form letter.

House Bill HR 289, the Great Outdoors Act, was recently passed by the House and sent to the Senate for consideration. I oppose the language in Section 2 of HR 289 that says fees can be charged
"For specialized individual and group use of Federal facilities and Federal recreational lands and waters, such as, but not limited to, use of special areas
Such vague language and undefined terms would allow the land management agencies to define for themselves what is a "specialized use" or a "special area." Combined with the strong incentive of being able to retain fee revenue, the agencies could return to charging for access to entire national forests and huge tracts of undeveloped federal lands, just as they did under Fee Demo. The phrase "such as but not limited to" is too vague and ambiguous to be used in any criminal statute and must be removed. Congress must protect the public from agency abuse by carefully defining exactly where and for what activities a Special Recreation Permit can be required.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act which currently governs federal recreation fees contains strong prohibitions against excessive and inappropriate fees that help protect the general public's right to access our federal public lands. The language in Section 2 of HR289 would nullify those protections. Please don't let that happen. Thank you.

The Senate will be taking up this bill in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and you should send them your concerns. Unfortunately they don't accept email from the general public but you should fax or mail  them a copy of what you send your Senators. Their contact information is:
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Office 
304 Dirksen Senate Building 
Washington, DC 20510 
Phone: (202) 224-4971 
Fax: (202) 224-6163 
Vigorous citizen opposition NOW is the last chance for getting this odious language eliminated from the bill. Please take a moment NOW to let your elected officials know that this is an important issue to you! 

Thanks for coming to the defense of your public lands! 
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
Comment by John Quillen on September 21, 2017 at 7:24pm

..You know I do, Myers.  Always.

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