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. http://www.westernslopenofee.org/pdfuploads/Fee_Policy_White_Paper.pdf

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.

Recreation.gov 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 4 hours ago

Steve,

With regard to the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, the piece of garbage law that has allowed the NPS and Forest service and BLM to enact all manner of fees, there are guidelines for civic engagement.  Although Ditz and Fitz "checked boxes" for many of those guidelines such as public comments (notice they are not required to accept the results of public comments merely collect them) we have proven that they did NOT fulfill one set.  That particular set was the notification of local county governments.  In the affidavit of Tab Burkhalter it is clearly shown that Ditmanson did not contact the Blount County commission as required by FLREA.  I have long said that they also did not contact the local chambers of commerce.  And in our original lawsuit, we proved this to be true but in his infinite wisdom, the judge was able to remotely discern the motives of Ditz and Fitz and rule that he believes they probably did so just by virtue of their unblemished character and vague inferences suggesting, with a wink, it occured.   They are not required to provide proof because they are government employees and the judge ruled that "deference" is usually given to agencies when they do what they said they did.    THAT is what is wrong with the people of whom you have spoken.   The sheep who accept that the NPS and government always has the taxpayers best interest at heart.

If I had a dollar for every time the NPS has gone on record as saying, with regard to some unpopular proposal, "This has been deemed the most workable situation for park employees", I would be able to retire tomorrow.

It is my personal hope to get an appeals court in Cincinatti with a judge that wasn't associated with the Howard Baker law firm and doesn't rub elbows with Lamar Alexander while taking his meals at Club Leconte and sipping cocktails at the Evergreen Ball.

Like Myers said.  "If the law matters, we will prevail".  Sadly, with regard to the Blackberry Farm elites with whom we have been battling since inception, the law is what you make it and federal property boundaries are where you deem them.  We "rabble" will carry our lamp  like Diogenes.  Myers says we will make them all lie on record.  So far, we have outed quite a record of liars.  

Thank you, Steve, for not conceding. Whether an appeals judge rules in favor of the truth or not, we have already won great battles along the way.  And you and everyone here can take great pride in that.

Comment by steve george 5 hours ago

Couple of questions:

The appeal will be brought to whom?  Would that be a more overly stuffed set of foxes watching over the less overly stuffed foxes guarding the chicken coop?

How low is the bar set for compliance of notification to state and local officials? Is there a list (of officials) that has to be checked off for the record?

We all witnessed this hollow gesture of civic engagement. The people who write the laws and regulations will always frame the words in favor of themselves or leave holes in the words for others to interpret.  The way the system is set up the others unfortunately are them.

Thanks for all of the hard work Myers and others. It is good to see some citizens refuse to knuckle under to this ruse. Look around.  Seems too many of our fellow citizens just concede to the detriment of our country.

Steve

Comment by Myers Morton on Wednesday

Southern Forest Watch, Inc., John, Rob and Gregg have appealed the District Court's decision dismissing our case. 

There is 1 issue on appeal, and it is:

Plaintiffs alleged and the record includes evidence that defendants’ failure to comply with the legal process requirements for public participation and civic engagement before implementing the Back Country Fee was a clear and prejudicial violation of applicable statutes and regulations set forth in 16 U.S.C. § 6803(a)-(b), and NPS’s Public Participation and Notification Guidelines, Appendix L, among other authority.
    The court found on a directed verdict that plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the NPS failed to “notify and obtain input from” necessary state and local officials, when the record clearly contains evidence that the NPS did not notify and did not obtain input from those necessary state and local officials.

If the law matters any more, we should prevail.

Myers

Comment by John Quillen on April 6, 2015 at 10:49pm

Comment by John Quillen on April 5, 2015 at 9:21pm

Happy Easter everyone.

Thanks for all you have done, Mark.  It is immeasurable. And thanks to everyone, especially the fine women that have been so steadfast. If you haven't seen this poll yet, the Asheville newspaper is conducting an opinion on the fee.  http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2015/04/01/federal-ju...

It is also time for a bit of history on why we have it.  http://www.chattanoogan.com/2005/6/28/68816/Amendment-Supports-Grea...

And if you didn't have time to read the Judge's justification (I don't call it a ruling but since they are Kings I suppose ruling is the right word) Let me share what I feel is the most relevant portion of it to me. This is what the Judge, King Phillips had to say when we presented information that clearly showed that ditmanson did not contact the chambers of commerce and Blount County or Swain County commissioners as required by the FLREA.   Ready?    Here is the Kings commentary on Ditmansons assertions that the NPS was unable to prove.   from page 47.   found here. http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/files/grsm-backcountry_fee_rul...

[AR 257]. Although there are no written notes or other documentation of these contacts,
the presumption of regularity afforded to agencies leads the Court to conclude that
defendants did what they claim to have done.

How about dem apples?  If Ditz says he did it, he did it.  Now go away.

Comment by Mark Cooke on April 4, 2015 at 6:00pm

When I heard the news many emotions went through me and I am so saddened for all the fine folks who put their hearts and souls into standing up against appointed despotism. John said it so well when he said how hard it is to win against the King while pleading your case in the King's Court. The previous comments about the ruling were so well stated and my sentiments and feelings are with each one of you. On a positive note we have all had our eyes opened, our character strengthened, made lifetime friends, and spirits renewed exposing the truth. 

Thank you, John, for standing up to the naysayers and those who attack you unmercifully on the National Parks Traveler, local papers, TV stations, etc. After reading your endeavors in your book Attempting the Throne Room, it shows your great faith and what kind of cloth you were cut from. I am honored to be associated with you and your friends.

I can only imagine the outcome if all the data, facts, and information could have been presented to a jury of peasants. Can you imagine us normal common folks hearing all the information that has been poured out in a court of law and then hearing a judge be against those findings? I am appalled at how us lowly peasants of the King have been looked down upon. This was not just about local folks, there were thousands that live many States away, some got involved and some did not. But at the end of this chapter, my impressions of the Smokies management has forever been scarred. What has occurred here is very much what is going on in Washington, but I won't go there on this blog. 

There were many items on the ruling that bothered me greatly, and I could write several pages about it, but there is one thing I want to share. If a person were to read just the part about the reservation section on pages 7 through 9, they would have the understanding that before the new Permit started that ALL call in reservations were for ALL campsites. That is not true. There are 104 campsites currently which is made up of 15 shelters and 89 ground sites. Of those 104 sites there are 1094 potential permits for the hikers, and 361 potential permits for the horses. Prior to the Feeasco you only had to call to make reservations for the "rationed" sites, they were bolded on the NPS provided trail maps and on the latest maps printed in 2011 they (rationed) were noted in the written section on the back of the map. The NPS controlled 41 sites through free reservations which meant in Hiker Permits, they controlled 48% of the hiker numbers. The other 63 sites were not heavily used so you just filled out a permit, dropped a copy in a box, and went into the backcountry with a carbon copy. You did not have to call or go by the Park's backcountry office. 

No where in this final judge's ruling did he explain how it really worked. He sure did tout about other items but not the main focus of the "reservation" details. This is from page 7 of the ruling, and doesn't it speak about getting reservations from all those sites.

Prior to 2013, permits for use of the backcountry sites and shelters were available free of charge. Reservations could be made by telephone to the Park’s backcountry office or in person at the Backcountry Information office in the Sugarlands Visitors Center [AR 132].

The judge then spews about the complaints and difficulties of getting through on a phone call. Then he weaves his knowledge of how he was told the outdated software was going to cause problems if it was not replaced. That software was another ploy to shove this tax down our throats. Remember, the NPS had the opportunity to get that software paid for by outside Friends. 

Then on page 9 of the ruling here is the Memo that was sent.....

On May 31, 2011, GRSM’s request was forwarded to the NPS Washington Support Office (“WASO”) for final approval of civic engagement [AR 31—36]. The memo sent to WASO describes GRSM’s request as follows: 

GRSM is proposing to institute a new fee for backcountry camping and shelter reservation and use. The park currently does not charge for these reservations and is proposing to begin charging a fee to cover the service charges and related costs of putting these sites onto the NRRS. The final actual fee will be determined through the civic engagement process and is likely to align with the total fees charged to the NPS by the NRRS. Having these sites on the NRRS will improve customer service for the visitors wishing to reserve these sites as they will now have 24/7 access to reserve and/or change reservations rather than having to call the park during normal business hours. There will be no increase in overall annual revenue as the result of this proposed increase as this will simply be a new fee to cover the recreation.gov service fees. 

The part about not currently charging for these reservations to me is a bold faced lie. How about those 63 sites that you NEVER had to get RESERVATIONS before and could do it without NPS intervention 24/7. It was intentionally written to look like all sites were always required to have reservations. The truth of those details were just left out, uh, oh, hee hee, now just bow to the King!

Comment by Myers Morton on April 3, 2015 at 11:07am

When SFW had our first protest outside Sugarland Visitor Center, a couple visiting from Argentina came up and asked us what was going on.  After explaining it to them, they told us in Argentina, all their National Parks had tall fences around them, and only the political elite had access to those parks.  Common people were excluded.  That is where we are going folks.

(A decision on whether there will be an appeal or not should be made within about 1 week.)

Comment by Dustin M on April 3, 2015 at 10:06am

Rob says it pretty well. It used to feel like our park, but now we are just renting it.

Comment by Rob Cameron on April 3, 2015 at 10:02am

Erik, I feel the same way about the park. I have about 70 miles left to complete my map, and when that is done I will be a very infrequent visitor. I have noticed that since I am now having to pay for the "privilege" of sleeping on the ground that I do not feel the need to pick up the trash you inevitably see on the first mile of the trail. Cigarette butts, candy wrappers, cans or bottles I just don't feel as compelled to clean it up. I used to feel like it was my park, and how dare someone litter. Now I know it is Leviathan's park and I have to pay to be there, so they can clean it up.

Comment by Jeff Schimer on April 3, 2015 at 1:15am

I'm sorry to see that the lawsuit was defeated. I commend all who spent so much of their time in this noble fight. I have personal experience as to why people aren't staying overnight in the National Parks. Glacier NP in Montana holds a special place for me as my wife and I honeymooned there in 1980. Our basic room at Many Glacier Lodge cost $35 a night. When we went back in 2005 a lakeview room, a basic motel room, cost $165. This room now costs around $200 a night. What family can afford to do this every year? We went in 2010 with another couple and stayed 8 miles outside the park in a vacation home on 10 acres with 4 bedrooms and a pond for $150 a night. We are going back in September with the same general set up 10 miles from the park, a 1 acre lot with privacy and a hot tub on the deck for $150 a night. While this is a special place for us, why pay $200 for a motel room in the park, staying with hundreds of people, when you can stay in a gorgeous home for less money. The choice is clear. I love the National Parks but we are being priced out of the enjoyment of staying there. I will suck it up and pay the inflated entrance fee but in the back of my mind I'll be thinking about how much I'm getting screwed.

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