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 September 11, 2014 at 7:21am

There Likely Is A National Park Fee Increase In Your Future...

What is remarkable here is that king of the moustache club, Jarvis, says they will only support these fee increases "if supported by civic engagement".   Since when did the NPS start giving a crap about civic engagement?  After we sued them over lying about it?  We all know those desk jockeys don't give a flying crap what the taxpaying public thinks about their double taxation.

Comment by steve george on August 30, 2014 at 12:19pm

Reread it Jim and his disdain for mountaineers and their "ways" is as clear as... well, spring water.  I suspect that had his depiction of the women had been relayed to them, it would have been met with a beating by those women. 

Had to purchase Life's Extras to get the taste out of my mouth.  Thanks for the enlightenment.

Comment by Jim Casada on August 29, 2014 at 9:48am

As I told John in a personal e-mail, Kephart was by no means a hero with local folks. His book, which the likes of Bernstein seem to cite as the ultimate authority on mountain people, is actually filled with disdain for locals. It is all too reminiscent of the disdain in which Ditmanson seemed to hold locals (especially those who loved the backcountry experience or who dared raise voices in protest to his policies or too cozy relationships with political bigwigs and concessionaires).

So, albeit not in the manner in which the "glitterati" (Bernstein's choice of words) who honored Ditmanson intended, the linkage of the mustaches is appropriate--two elitist outsiders looking down on the lowly hoi polloi who are long-established locals with deep roots in the Smokies.  If you doubt the accuracy of what I say about Kephart, simply read Chapter 13 of Our Southern Highlanders to get a feel for his demeaning dismissal of what he calls "branch-water people."

Or I'll quote from two folks, one a scholar and the other a revered local judge and staunch man of the mountains, who offered evaluations of Kephart's book.

Durwood Dunn, in his fine book on Cades Cove, says Kephart's writing represents "the nadir of Appalachian stereotyping" and that he "completely distorted and misrepresented mountain life and customs."

Judge Felix Alley of Waynesville, a man who knew Kephart well and who was widely admired throughout the mountains not only as a judge but as a true son of the Smokies, said that Kephart wrote to sell books and "to be interesting and not to tell the truth." He roundly condemned Kephart for "looking upon our mountaineers as freaks or curiosities."  Sound familiar? I always got the feeling that was pretty much how Ditmanson viewed members of the SFW and others who dared have the temerity to question his bureaucratic wisdom and dictates.

Incidentally, should anyone be sufficiently interested, I presented my view of Kephart in considerable detail at a symposium at the University of Tennessee Library a few years back in a paper entitled "Kephart Through the Eyes of a Son of the Smokies." If anyone would like to read it in full (and be warned you will likely leave him feeling Kephart was less than the great hero he is normally presented as), contact me by e-mail at and I'll send you a Word file of the presentation.

Jim Casada

Comment by John Quillen on August 29, 2014 at 9:03am

Double amen, Gregg.  Speaking of nauseating carpetbaggers, look what Danny Bernstein, board member of the Great Smoky Mtns Association has said.  She is obviously referring to our appellations of the moustache club and has placed Ditmanson alongside Kephart as one of the two greatest moustaches the Smokies has ever seen.  This brings me great joy that our jabs have been so widespread that they went to the length to counter it at Dale's retirement party.     My favorite comment"  "When a superintendent as popular as Dale Ditmanson of Great Smoky Mountains National Park retires,  you give him a party.

You know, Berstein is right about one thing.   Ditmanson, Kephart and Bernstein came to the Smokies from far away.  Much as I like Kephart, Jim has educated me that his exploitation of the locals was legendary.  So the only thing missing from that poster below is a picture of Bernstein and perhaps Vesna.


Comment by Mark Cooke on August 29, 2014 at 12:03am

Very well stated Gregg, a big and hearty Amen!

Comment by Gregg Bostick on August 28, 2014 at 11:03pm

I have been silent on this blog for quite some time for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because I am a named plaintiff in our fight against the first ever user fee in the GSMNP.  However, there are some things that need to be said.

First, thanks to everyone who has contributed financially to SFW.  Contrary to the misinformation that has been posted on other sites by a misinformed carpetbagger who draws a check from the GSMA, we do not have a war chest full of cash, we do not solicit funds under false pretenses, and we do not appeal to lovers of the park who never go any further into it than the picnic areas or overlooks.  And we sure as heck do NOT cow-tow to folks who are well heeled, politically connected, or have a financial interest in this issue. By the way, Gary, if you would like to have a conversation about our organization, please call John Quillen (I know you have his number based on the unsolicited text messages you sent him while you were on vacation out west where you belong) and he will give you my phone I suspect you troll our site.

Next, thanks to John and Kitty for brining the issue of the proposed legislation to light.  CONTACT YOUR  CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS AND VOICE YOUR OPPOSITION!  SPEAK TO YOUR LOCAL COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AND TO YOUR COUNTY MAYORS.  As Tip O'Neal said, "All politics is local."  And our senior senator did not carry his home county in the primary...thank you Blount County! 

Finally, keep spreading the word amongst your family, friend, and hiking communities.  This is a grass roots movement, (because we are not PAID to solicit, pander for funds, or push an agenda....yeah, that is directed straight at you Gary Wilson & your concessionaire buddies), but only have the interests of preserving our public lands for the use of future generations...based on promises made by previous generations with the government...and yes, I have relatives buried in our sacred hills and who gave up their land for what is now an empty promise due to bureaucrats who are more interested in pensions than preservation.


Comment by John Quillen on August 28, 2014 at 3:47pm

Want to see what the SFW has done with the ATC stance on fees in the Smokies and elsewhere?  You can thank gotsmokies member Martin Hunley, ATC member and trail maintainer for getting the ATC to adopt this position.  Martin has been lobbying the ATC on behalf of SFW since inception of the fee.  In addition to being an avid backpacker, trail maintainer and one of my best friends on this earth, he is a tireless advocate not just for backcountry freedom but issues related to the AT since moving to New York a couple of years ago.   This kind of work, along with the stuff like Andrew was doing is what gets this thing stopped in other places after Myers lawsuit ends it here.   The following is excerpted from the ATC newsletter August 2014.   

Q and A from the Clubs

Club leaders attending the meeting had an opportunity to submit questions and comments, many of which were discussed there. One that was not addressed questioned the future of the Trail as a free resource for generations to come. As the A.T. has always been a “free” national park, this concern is shared by many, including hikers and the volunteers who maintain and help manage the Trail 
Some Trail partners have implemented or proposed fee programs on the A.T. in recent years. Such fees will have the effect of reducing the traditional freedom that has been the hallmark of the Trail. Preserving the Trail’s natural resources amid growing use numbers is important, too, so a careful balance must be struck.    

ATC expressed strong reservations to the NPS regarding camping permit fees in the Great Smokies. However, the Park elected to adopt a fee system for backcountry camping, and it was implemented in 2013 (

The ATC Stewardship Council subsequently developed, and is recommending that the ATC Board of Directors adopt, a policy statement to oppose mandatory recreation user fees. It will be discussed at the fall board meeting. The draft policy was shared earlier this year with the regional partnership committees. It can be found here. 
Comment by Andrew Sisson on August 25, 2014 at 12:27am


I just emailed my House of Representative, and both of my State Senators.  Posted on FB as well.

Thank you for the link.

Comment by John Quillen on August 24, 2014 at 11:09pm

Kitty sent this to me and I promptly contacted Congressman Duncan.  Then I had another friend contact their representative Fleischman.  Please contact your representative and have this FEE bill for federal lands stopped in its tracks.  Could you imagine having the Citico/Slickrock area turned into a place that needs a digital media specialist?  


August 24, 2014 




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Kitty Benzar ,

Action is urgently needed to stop a bill introduced in the House, and already rammed through Committee and ready for a floor vote.
HR 5204 would authorize the Forest Service and BLM to charge fees for all public lands, for any activity, by any person, any time.
Details follow. Please TAKE ACTION NOW!
Kitty Benzar  



Just before the House adjourned for their August recess, HR 5204 The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Modernization Act of 2014, was introduced by U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) and rammed through the House Resources Committee, without a hearing, by its Chairman, U.S. Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA).

It's likely that Bishop and Hastings are planning to get HR 5204 attached as a rider to the FY2015 appropriations bill. Although HR 5204 has attracted no sponsor in the Senate so far, it's likely that if attached as an appropriations rider it will pass both chambers without scrutiny or public debate, and become the law of the land, because appropriations bills are considered "must pass" in order to avoid a government shutdown.

HR 5204, if enacted, could destroy the concept of public lands as places where everyone has access and is welcome. Every place, every activity, every person, could be required to pay a fee - an additional tax on top of the taxes that already support public lands - for access, regardless whether they are highly developed like National Parks and Forest Service or BLM campgrounds, or completely undeveloped like Wilderness Areas.

HR 5204 would allow the kind of fees that have not been controversial to continue, such as fees for developed campgrounds and National Park entrance fees. But in addition to those fees, it would allow general access fees for any federal recreational lands and waters. It would accomplish this by two types of fee: Day Use Fees and Permit Fees

The only meaningful requirement for a Day Use Fee would be that where you park there is a toilet of some kind (could be a porta-potty or a stinky outhouse) within 1/2 mile.

The only meaningful requirement for a Permit Fee would be that where you park gives access to a "special area." Neither "special" nor "area" is defined. The land agencies would have complete discretion to claim that any place at all is a "special area."

So where there is a toilet it could be called a Day Use Fee. Where there is not a toilet, it could be called a Permit Fee. The result is the same: there would not be anyplace where a fee is not allowed. And since the agencies would get to keep all the fee money directly, there would be not be anywhere that they wouldn't have a strong incentive to charge a fee.

Public lands? Forget that. Not any more. Not if this passes.

There is other stuff in HR 5204 (like no more fee-free days, citizenship checks on annual pass holders, and overhead costs rising from 15% to 25%), but they only rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking ship of our public lands.
Congress is on vacation until the week after Labor Day. When they return, the 2015 appropriations bills will be among the top items of business. If Bishop and Hastings succeed in getting HR 5204 attached to one of them, it's almost guaranteed to pass.

What can stop it?

If you care about our public lands being turned into commodities available only to those who can afford to pay fees for everything, then you must let YOUR Representative and YOUR Senators hear from you. Tell them that this major change in public policy cannot be allowed, particularly without any public hearing or debate.

HR 5204 lacks any over-arching vision or framework of our public lands being spaces where we all are welcome and have access. Yet it's being supported by groups like the National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, and America Outdoors, because it throws a bone here and there to their special interests. But for the general public, there is nothing redeeming in this bill, nor any way it could be amended into something acceptable. It represents a complete change in public lands policy, which would be accomplished without public hearings or debate.

Tell your congressional delegation to OPPOSE HR 5204 and TO NOT ALLOW IT TO BE ATTACHED TO AN APPROPRIATIONS BILL!

All the contact information you need can be found at and

Use their webform.
Call their office in Washington.
Call their local office.
Write, phone, fax, drop in in person.

Do all of the above. And then do it again!

Your personal action is urgently needed or this bill WILL PASS!


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 John Quillen on August 24, 2014 at 9:24pm

It appears as if the digital media specialist for the GSMA, Gary Wilson, has texted me another  message that is 35 kbs in size.  It appears to be a screen shot of this blog page but he apparently was unable to proofread whatever illegible and miniscule image that was intended.  I will admit I am not tech saavy but any lay web person knows that a detailed image that size loses all resolution, especially in a text message.  I even sent it to other people in hopes they could decipher it.  Their first response was, "what kind of dumb_-__ sends something that small?"

Then we laughed aloud at the metaphoric irony.    Thanks for all your laughs, Gary.   I will take that miniscule response as another "no".

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