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 Donna Davis yesterday

Huge CONGRATS to Kitty...! Keep on keepin' on! We're behind you all the way! I too contacted my Senators and Reps in the fight of HR204. John, Meyers, and the rest, we stand with and behind you as well. Your level of integrity, commitment, time, and dedication to this worthy cause is priceless. It's humbling, encouraging and noteworthy of praise to say the least. I personally don't know very many people who remain so dedicated and convicted about a cause to persevere to the degree that you guys have. So few folks standing alongside you (us) but everyone receives the benefit. Would be awesome to see more (people) involved, supporting, and willing to give words of encouragement for all you all do. Perhaps there are those 'silent' supporters out there; that's wonderful, but it's even better to hear it and make your support known. Hoping to see some folks crawl out of the woodwork and jump on board to support SFW and what we represent.  

Comment by Andrew Sisson yesterday

Yeah Kitty.  I contacted my Senators and Representatives in the fight of HR204 as well. 

Comment by John Quillen on Tuesday

In addition to Myers efforts, Kitty has made some headway by working on and with congress to get this thing stripped!  Look at what our colleagues out West have done!  Congratulations Kitty Benzar.


December 15, 2014 




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Kitty Benzar ,


As perhaps you already know, late Saturday night the US Senate approved an Omnibus Appropriations Bill to fund the government through fiscal 2015. The House had already passed the bill, and President Obama is expected to sign it this week.

Here's the good news: A top-to-bottom revision of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act that could have authorized fees to be charged on all federal lands, for all visitors, and for any activity, was not included in the funding bill!

To everyone who called, wrote, and emailed your U.S. Representative and Senators. By letting Congress know that recreation fees are a controversial topic that is of intense interest to citizens, you helped send them "back to the drawing board."

Read more below about what to expect when the new Congress convenes in January.



Recreation Fee Policy Changes Must Start Over

Sometimes the best you can do in politics is to dance with the devil you know.

That's the takeaway from the US House's (for now) failed attempt to pass legislation that could have conferred nearly unlimited authority on federal land management agencies to require that visitors pay a fee to be anywhere, or do anything, on our National Forests, BLM, and other federal public lands.

Instead, the funding bill that passed just as this session of Congress came to an end extends the current law - the devil we know - through September 30, 2016.

That law is The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, or FLREA. It is a deeply flawed statute. But it does contain some important provisions, which have been upheld in several federal court cases, that protect citizens from over-reach by fee-hungry agency bureaucrats.

For example, FLREA says:
"The Secretary shall not charge any standard amenity recreation fee or expanded amenity recreation fee for Federal recreational lands and waters administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, or the Bureau of Reclamation under this Act for any of the following:  
(A) Solely for parking, undesignated parking, or picnicking along roads or trailsides.  
(B) For general access unless specifically authorized under this section.  
(C) For dispersed areas with low or no investment unless specifically authorized under this section.  
(D) For persons who are driving through, walking through, boating through, horseback riding through, or hiking through Federal recreational lands and waters without using the facilities and services.  
(E) For camping at undeveloped sites that do not provide a minimum number of facilities and services as described in subsection (g)(2)(A).  
(F) For use of overlooks or scenic pullouts."

The House bill would have gutted those prohibitions. It called for amending FLREA:
"by striking subparagraphs (A) through (F) and inserting the following new subparagraph:  
(A) For any site, area, or activity, except as specifically authorized under this section."

Since "this section" authorized almost unlimited fees, those important protections against fees for undeveloped areas and general access could have been wiped out.

In our last several Alerts, we warned of the possibility that the House bill (known as HR 5204) could get attached to a piece of unrelated "must-pass" legislation and sail through Congress without being debated or considered on its own merits. Indeed, quite a few unrelated measures, known as "riders," were attached to both the National Defense Authorization Act and the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act in the final week of the congressional session.

But not HR 5204. Whether that is because of citizen action or due to some other force is unknown to anyone outside the back rooms in Washington where such deals are done.

Nevertheless, those of you (and you were many) who took the time and made the effort to contact your elected officials should pat yourselves on the back and take credit. When Congress doesn't hear from you, they assume you don't care. They certainly can't make that assumption on this issue!

What Happens Next?

Although the new expiration date of FLREA is in 2016, the date to watch is September 30, 2015. That's because FLREA is where the authority resides for the federal agencies to sell the interagency annual "America the Beautiful" Pass. The Park Service brings in the lion's share of revenue from these annual passes and relies heavily on that revenue. If new legislation (or another extension of FLREA) is not in place by a full year before FLREA expires, then purchasers of annual passes can't be guaranteed a full year of benefits, such as entrance into every National Park, with predictable impacts on sales and reduced revenue to the National Parks. No one in Congress wants to be perceived as hurting the National Parks. So even though most of the controversy about fees swirls around National Forests and BLM lands, the future of fee policy there is tightly coupled to the Parks.

The 114th Congress convenes in January, with some new faces and some important changes in leadership.

Rob Bishop (R-UT), who was the sole sponsor of HR 5204, moves up from Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands to become Chairman of the overall Natural Resources Committee. That puts him in an even more powerful position to push legislation that he supports and/or sponsors. He has not yet named a replacement for himself for the Public Lands Subcommittee, but the leading candidates are said to be Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).

More sweeping changes are coming in the Senate with the transfer of the majority to Republicans. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will now chair the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees federal public lands. She also will be the head of the Appropriations subcommittee for public lands, so she will have great power over both policy and the purse strings. Mark Udall (D-CO), who was Chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee, lost his bid for re-election, and is likely to be succeeded by Rob Portman (R-OH). The Public Lands Subcommittee is likely to be led by either John Barasso (R-WY) or Jim Risch (R-ID).

These House and Senate leaders represent states where many people live close to or surrounded by federal public lands. They should certainly "get it" that their constituents have a fierce sense of ownership and commitment to our National Forests, BLM, and other federal lands. Those constituents want federal lands adequately funded so that there is no incentive for the agencies to pick our pockets just to go for a walk in the woods. They also want Congress to exercise strong oversight of the federal land agencies and make sure they are using our tax money wisely and following the law.

And the law, THANKS TO YOU, still says that we can't be required to pay a fee solely for parking, roadside picnicking, general access, dispersed undeveloped areas, camping outside of developed campgrounds, passing through without use of facilities and services, or enjoying the sunset from a scenic overlook.

There is a lot of  devil in the details, but at least it's the devil we know!  

After the first of the year, as soon as there is any action in the new Congress regarding federal recreation fees, we will notify you about it and tell you what you can do. Our voice is strong and growing, but we always need more support. If someone you know should be on our notification list, please send them to our website to sign up. You can also Forward this message and direct them to the signup link at the upper left.
As always, subscribing to our list is absolutely FREE!

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 Myers Morton on Monday

"Last" response.

The Judge will make a decision.

Comment by John Quillen on Monday

Take a few minutes to read Myers latest response to the NPS liar's club.  I think it is exemplary.

Comment by John Quillen on December 8, 2014 at 9:01am

The NPS is proposing several "new" units to the system.  Yet they cannot afford to operate the ones they have presently. Also, Denali is charging their climbing guide concessions record increases by gouging them for almost 8% of the take while doubling the fee for individual climbers attempting the peak.  The climbing fee alone pays for a ranger presence at 14k feet so the rest is pure profit for the NPS .  Where is the oversight?  Big Bend just proposed another increase to their backcountry fee today.  "Cash" is the right name for NPS managers.

Comment by David Lee on December 4, 2014 at 6:28pm
Considering the amount of money they're takin' from us I'm not surprised they found someone named "Cash".
Comment by John Quillen on December 4, 2014 at 6:24pm

       I can't.

Comment by Myers Morton on December 4, 2014 at 5:20pm

Dare I say it?

Comment by Myers Morton on December 4, 2014 at 5:17pm

"Excuse me while I whip this out!"

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