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 Dana Koogler yesterday

John, Thanks for the update. Thanks to SFW and Myers for all done to fight the fee.  I now find it really fascinating that Vesna pulled that add from Gosmokies and refused to answer the comments regarding the request for an explanation of how the concessionaire reservation system is to function.

She was smart enough to realize she'd opened a can of worms there. :-)

Comment by John Quillen yesterday

This is the most recent FOIA

Marianne M. Mills                                                       Via Email Only

Regional FOIA and Privacy Act Officer

Southeast Region, NPS

100 Alabama Street SW

1924 Building

Atlanta, Georgia 30303



            RE:     FOIA NPS-2015-00059: Follow Up Information Needed

                        Southern Forest Watch, Inc.





Thank you for your October 21, 2014, email with questions about our FOIA request.  We appreciate your assistance in formulating or reformulating our request and effort to better identify the records we seek.


The cost, if any, of you publicly opening your records is major determining factor in the scope of our request.


Whether a fee waiver is granted or not, we are also trying to more definitely focus the topic of our request to save you effort.  We remain open to your suggestions on how better to limit your work.


Our request is limited to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a time period covering from January 2012, through the present.


Confidential information, if any, can be redacted.


Our reformulated request has 3 components.


            1.  Concessionaires/Franchise/License


Provide an accounting of the total money paid to the park from Franchise Fee Payments and/or licenses and/or concessionaires for the use of the park and park services (including the new online reservation system).  Please break those fees down by Franchise/License owner and concessionaire and provide copies of all concessionaire/franchise/license agreements and contracts.


            2.  Reservation System (Since implementation of the reservation system)


A listing of all reservations made by name (including concessionaires/franchisees/licensees), date the reservations were made, date of the camping reservation, campsite, size of party, car and location, and any other non-confidential information gathered on the reservation website.   (We do not need license plate numbers.)


Do you have any reservation analysis or mechanism to compile data reflecting what reserved campsites were actually used by those making reservations?  Do Rangers check campsites and shelters?  Is there a log? Etc? If so, please provide that information.


            3.  Blount County Government Emergency Services tower located at Look Rock.


Provide any documents reflecting any agreements and/or contracts with Blount County and/or any other entity to keep Blount County’s Emergency services and communications tower located on park property on Look Rock.  (Superintendent Ditmanson mentioned the cooperation between the park and Blount County in his comments before the Blount County Commission on or about February 21, 2013.


We are seeking a full fee waiver or alternatively and grudgingly at a reduced charge.


One reason to allow a full fee waiver is you have previously given Southern Forest Watch, Inc.,  a full fee waiver on or about October 11, 2011.  Also, unless I am mistaken, your previous FOIA response also included approximately 400 pages.


What we seek is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities, and it is not in our commercial interest.


Respecting the Concessionaires/Franchise/License accounting, if certain individuals, companies and other “political elites” or “cronies” are being allowed to take exorbitant profits to the exclusion of the general public, it is in the public interest to know the park is being managed in such a fashion.


Respecting the reservation system, we have good reason to believe that concessionaires are reserving or “over-booking” campsites and shelters in order to have exclusive rights for their use and to preclude others using campsites and shelters in the park.  These concessionaires are not using the campsites.


If this is true, such a practice is illegal.  It is in the public interest that the park be managed legally.  The public needs to understand government operations or activities are not being conducted legally.


Respecting Blount County and/or any other entity’s agreement to exclusively use park property on Look Rock, it is in the public interest to know who is profiting and for how much.


This information will contribute to the public’s perception that the Federal government is managing the park in ways to allow a certain individuals and organizations to profit to the exclusion of the general public.  Nothing could be a more important civic duty.


As described in a previous FOIA request, Southern Forest Watch has a broad audience of persons across many states intimately interested in the management of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 


Southern Forest Watch, Inc., is a Tennessee non-profit Public Benefit Corporation dedicated to watching how the National Park Service manages southern forest lands, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


Logic advises that this information is readily available.  It is likely the government has previously published this information; however, we do not know where else to find the information.


Southern Forest Watch, Inc., has no commercial interest whatsoever in this information.  It will be broadcast far and wide and no charge to anyone.


Additionally, Southern Forest Watch, Inc., is not an “other” requester for fee purposes.  The closest description of Southern Forest Watch, Inc., is as an educational and noncommercial institution.   Southern Forest Watch, Inc., through its websites and contacts is considered in some circles as a media outlet also.


You may provide the information in the form or format of disclosure that is least expensive.  You can attach the information to emails, burned upon a disc, deposited on a website or stacked on a table somewhere.


Does this help? 


Do you have any other suggestions?




                                                                                    Southern Forest Watch, Inc.


                                                                                    By: _______________________

                                                                                                John Quillen

Comment by John Quillen yesterday

The NPS is increasing entrance fees at Cape Cod. They are going from $5 per motorcycle to $15 per motorcycle. They are going from$3 per person to $10 per person daily fee.  The fee floodgates are open and they are ramming them through quicker than National Parks Traveler can publish stories about the fee increases.

If you have noticed, there have been no fee increases here in the Smokies.  There has also been no Superintendent named here in the Smokies.  This lawsuit has given these bureaucrats pause and those dayhikers and others can thank you for your hard work and donations.

The board of SFW is working on a FOIA request that is going to likely cost us some money.  We are following the money trail between concessionaires/guide services and the NPS.  The guide services have their own private log in to the backcountry reservation system.  And we are paying them to provide this service.  We are digging deep to make connections.  Myers is working every day on your behalf.

Everyone here is keeping fees at bay in the Smokies. 

Comment by Dana Koogler on Wednesday

ha! I knew they were probably going to cave. I'd have been far more shocked if they stood up against the fee.  I am finding that this fee issue and the law suit and all that it has uncovered has really soured my feeling toward the park. It is silly perhaps, but it really harshes my mellow.  I am finding such freedom in places like Slickrock and Citico where I can enjoy all the natural beauty without the politics or my bad feelings about it.
I know you've gotten on me in the past for being "reclusive" and there is truth to what you've said. I've got my reasons.  I'm always gonna be that awkward ass hillbilly.  I'm working on it. I'm better than I used to be.

I am finding it very difficult to go the crowds. I'd tell myself Ah screw it. I'm going to Wyoming to live, but I am a Southerner.  I crave isolation because it is restorative.  Maybe now that I'm not having to go to the woods to seek solace for damage done by my work and the chit that goes on at home... I will eventually learn to like people a little better.  I think sometimes that removing myself from the SMHC and the GSMA is a hindrance to knowing what is going on in "their" circle.  That's probably B.S. because even when I was a member I was not privy to their doings except on a few occasions.  I've tried. Square Peg, meet round hole. :-D

Comment by John Quillen on Wednesday


I found his name in the context of William Hart's book,, 3000 miles in the Smokies.  Hart is board president of GSMA.  The Smoky Mtn Hiking Club conferred tacit approval of the backcountry tax.  A member of this forum lobbied them on multiple occasions and was met with great resistance.   Strangers in High Places indeed!

Comment by Dana Koogler on Tuesday

Ok.. now I know why that name sounded familiar.  He was a past president of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club 1998-99.  I knew I'd heard of him before and his photo was familiar as well. Nothing earth shattering though. 

Comment by Dana Koogler on Tuesday

"The portion of the "boundary trail" currently under discussion was constructed well before Blackberry Farm opened because it is shown on the USGS Kinzel Springs quadrangle map, created in 1953 and last revised in 1978."~~quote from Mike Harrington 

It just looks the same as a lot of what some of the officials from the Park have said. More of the same. It is factual. However I consider this comment along with those of the NPS to be a case of "Failure to See the Point".

A big case of it.  Yes. The trail was constructed before Blackberry Farm opened. 

The point IMHO is that they are maintaining it and cutting trees. AFTER the NPS decided to abandon it.

I can't help wondering if 1. this guy is really that foolish and doesn't get the point or 2.  He is a lot like the NPS and just trying to come up with a justification and/or divert attention from the real matter.

I don't know him, but the name sounds familiar.  Times like this I wish I had maintained my SMHC membership.

Let me do some checking around and I'll let ya know if I come up with anything.

Comment by John Quillen on Tuesday

Does anyone know Mike Harrington?  He has posted a comment on the Blackberry Farm story that was pointed out to me.  I did a little digging and come to find out he has ties with the GSMA director. (I am not on facebook so I couldn't respond to him) I started thinking and realized that we never heard anything from the GSMA until we started implicating Blackberry Farms. That is exactly the point when the Unabagger, aka Gary Wilson entered the picture.  That could lead one to think that the GSMA has some potential connections with Blackberry Farms since they have sent folks to such great lengths to defend the resort.  They have also sent folks out to attack another one of our board members in a separate incident.  Just seems  a little bit too coincidental.   But don't expect to get any answers from their director, Terry Maddux.  

Comment by Dustin M on Monday

This is why I would not have let them have the extension. 

Comment by John Quillen on Monday

Now I'm seeing that WATE has updated the story and may be referring to another hiker who happened to be on a horse near Cosby campground.  Good grief.

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