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 Mark Cooke 52 minutes ago


On two occasions I have been in the central interior part of the backcountry area and heard a high power rifle shot during the day, no doubt it was in the park. Both times they were far away, but it was very distinguishable what it was. In June of 2003 my wife and I were camping at Sheep Pen Gap and we found the off-trail campsite of a hired pig hunter. We met this young man of approximately 22 years of age, last name was McCann from Oklahoma. He was going to college there and in the process of getting some kind of Animal Science degree, hired as a part time "Resource Ranger" for the summer. He wore jeans with a NPS volunteer type of shirt with the Arrowhead emblem on it. During the day he hunted with a scoped high power rifle, I do not remember the caliber, but I met him again later that night heading down the path to Parson's Bald with a 12 gauge shotgun with a very large high beam light out of a car with a 12v battery strapped onto the gun. It was a very odd setup, but when he turned it on, wow did it light the place up. Even though we had a nice fire and stayed up late, neither my wife or I heard a shot that evening. He had over 30 kills at the time we met him and I asked what he did with them. He would cut them open and leave them lay, said the bears and coyotes would take care of the rest. 

Comment by Dan G yesterday


I ran into a couple of boar hunters back in January '99 in Greenbrier.  The road was closed for bridge work and the park had left a pickup on the other side of the closure.  Hitched a ride with them to Old Settlers for a hike over to Cosby once the Ranger they were talking with said it was OK.  They seemed pretty legitimate and knowledgeable.  The park service was taking advantage of the closure and resulting light usage to insert hunters hot and heavy.

Comment by Dwayne Allen yesterday

I did encounter 2 NPS employees in January hunting hogs on the Little Cataloochee Trail.

Comment by Jim Casada on Thursday

Apparently there is no general awareness, either with PEER or NPT, of the fact that the NPS has hired "swine snipers" for some time. I'm not necessarily against this, and in fact would in all likelihood be fully supportive provided well-qualified woodsmen/marksmen were doing it. I do not know whether or not this is the case, but I'm betting at least two or three people who read this forum have run across these snipers.

The GSMNP tries to keep it secret but when you are off trail and run into a guy in fully camo carrying a scoped rifle, it's pretty obvious one of two things is in the works. You've encountered a poacher or a swine sniper.

Jim Casada

Comment by John Quillen on Thursday

Apparently old Pedro has stepped in a pile of it.  This is what PEER says about his proposed Python hunt in the Everglades and relates it back to the Smokies.   

Unfortunately, what this episode really reflects is an advancing institutional decay in the quality of national park leadership.

Comment by John Quillen on August 20, 2015 at 7:34pm


Our governor, the wealthiest politician in the United States, is just outsourcing every facet of the government to his crony friends.  But what can you expect from an oil billionaire whose first act as governor was to institute a rule barring his finances from being disclosed to the public.

This is how he pays them back.

Some of you have written the state parks director and shared you response privately.  I have yet to hear back from the guy.  But he did receive an earful, I can assure. Good for those of you who let your voice be heard.  The State parks director,  Mike Robertson, actually had the nerve to say in one correspondence that the fee was an attempt to "reduce the burden on taxpaying citizens"   Really?  Only a bureaucrat can talk like that.  Give em hell, folks.  It may not change but let them know you see through their BS.  Here is the email link again.

Comment by Dustin M on August 18, 2015 at 2:34pm

This is what happens when people vote party lines. Republicans are out to privatize and exploit every resource we have. Look at the Koch brothers and their land grabs. I like how Trump made that statement how all the other Republicans were controlled by big donors like him. On the flip side he's also admitting that the reason they are so angry with the sitting President is because he cannot be controlled by big him. Haslam is clearly under control as this is not a move the public has been pushing. There are plenty of real issues that the public wants, but privatization of our Parks is not one of them. 

Comment by John Quillen on August 18, 2015 at 1:46pm

Of course, this explains a lot of it.  

As part of that effort, a small group of major national vendors, including Aramark and Delaware North, are making site visits at several Tennessee State Parks across the state whose retail operations the Haslam administration is proposing to outsource, including inns, cabins, campgrounds, restaurants, marinas and golf courses

Comment by John Quillen on August 18, 2015 at 11:47am

I just got off the phone with George Shinn, managing director of S. Cumberland.  Several interesting points.  Shinn is managing director of S. Cumberland because his predecessor took a leave due to disagreeing with the charging of backcountry fees.

I outlined our history with the Smokies fee and expressed my concerns about the lack of civic engagement of which I was personally totally unaware.  We spoke for 30 minutes and he emphasized that they are the guinea pig for backcountry fees since they have seen an uptick in backcountry camping in the last two years.  I told him that was likely the result of the fee in the Smokies driving people to state parks. He was also unaware that the TN State Legislature passed a resolution condemning the backcountry fee in the Smokies, he had no idea.  I intend to contact the commissioner of TN State Parks and here is his email, I would encourage others to do the same and share your correspondence here.

Comment by John Quillen on August 17, 2015 at 9:31pm

Amen Gregg,

On another note, looks like the state of Tn is following the NPS lead by attempting to charge a backcountry camping fee at Fiery Gizzard.  And to think I had been bragging about that setup down there after Joey and I went climbing and backpacking a few years ago.  Sounds like its time for them to hear from SFW.

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