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 Jim Casada on December 27, 2011 at 9:11am

Martin--Are the ATC comments explaining their opposition to the backcountry fees available to the public?  It would be useful to have them if so.  At this point one has to wonder a bit whether we will ever get the full, true comments from Ditmanson, since obviously there is obfuscation and procrastination at every turn connected with the FOIA request.  There's also concern, at least in this quarter, that there will be gerrymandering or redacting.  To be sure, that might be a bit difficult since upwards of 500 of those who opposed this on the record did so in through an on-line petition. 

Call me a bit paranoid if you wish, but I have reached the point where my skepticism connected with anything coming out of Sugarlands is on red alert.

Anyway, share if you have this information and thanks for the good news (and good for the ATC!).

Jim Casada

Comment by Martin Hunley on December 27, 2011 at 7:48am
Very good points Dana. I hate to agree, but I do see a lot of your points.

Congress is trying to pass a bill that they can take someone without a court order and submit ways of truth finding as is used by the CIA. They can hold people as long as they want as well. All is needed is for the law enforcement is to see you as a threat to natal security. This sounds like a lot of right wing stuff and it is.... Just some more things to think about.... Some of this has been brought up by some veitnam vets at work. This bill is scary from very little I have read on it. Crazy stuff in the name of fighting terroism.
Comment by Martin Hunley on December 27, 2011 at 7:00am
Chris, I was thinking the same thing as far sending a thank you note.

Thanks, John. What is that song, I believe by the Scorpions - the change of wind. More or less about the Fall of the Berlin Wall. This should be the song of this Feeasco.

Great work my friends. I appluad your tenacity.
Comment by Martin Hunley on December 27, 2011 at 6:51am
Catching up on some of the post in the few days. Some pretty good stuff. Great job guys. I just cannot express how thrilled I was to get the email from the ATC. I have been so down on how the ATC has been going along with this whole thing. I wonder were some of the pressure came from to do a 180?

I agree Joey about what the ATC stands for is the freedom of the path for over 2175 miles. They have a lot of support an backing. U would hope they would stand up and fight anything such as this. I guess they would have to reroute the Appalachian Trail around the Smokies if it got past. I know I would hike it through the smokies and not pay a dime. They would have to carry me off the mountain and I would do as much bad PR as I could. I just wish more people would see this as an intrusion on our freedom.

It is do easy to say, "OK, I will pay for this because it is for a good cause. " I am guilty of this as well. It is for a good cause, but it is founded on lies and that is the problem.

We taxpayers pay plenty of taxes. We need to be more involved were it is going and demand that it goes to what the people believe is needed. We are pretty much like cattle... Just feed and water us.....and we will follow.
Comment by John Quillen on December 26, 2011 at 11:10pm

Chris,  I sent a thank you note as well.  Good idea.  I'm glad to see someone in the know take a stand.  Martin, you made the Christmas catch of the year! 

Comment by Martin Hunley on December 26, 2011 at 10:28pm
Merry Christmas my friends. I believe this news will be a big present to us all. 
Good news my friends. I just got a letter from the ATC and here is a few paragraphs that was in it: 
"The council unanimously endorsed a maximum-stay-limit of four nights at A.T. shelters and designated campsites. The issue was discussed at three of four Regional Partnership Committee meetings and supported by the NPS-Appalachian Trail Park Office. The purpose would be to reduce vagrancy, panhandling, and potential crimes at overnight sites along the Trail. ATC staff will work with NPS-ATPO to urge agency partners, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, to establish such stay limits. The Trail and Camping Committee discussed a reservation and permit plan proposed by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and agreed with ATC Southern Regional Director Morgan Sommerville’s recommendation that ATC should oppose the plan. ATC later submitted comments to the Park stating its objections. "
Comment by John Quillen on December 26, 2011 at 5:39pm


The acolytes were usually anonymous or unconfirmed people.  The reality is that most folks who live in TN and NC or have roots here oppose the fee.  Not that I think you have to reside here or have those credentials to have an opinion, quite the opposite. All the pro fee mythology comes from people who have lived out west and have that, "If we have to, you do too" crybaby attitude.  They didn't stand up for their rights and got what they deserved. Kitty Benzar has been fighting fees out West for over a decade.  She can tell you what local attitudes are now about arbitray and illegal fees in the Federal Forests.  She has testified before congress about the fee abuses out west.  When we say this is a foot in the door, we have more education on the subject and definitely more common sense than most of the pro fee folks who spout off and have never even been into the backcountry.  Right now, Ditz is stalling and there's a bit of egg on his face with the ATC position.  He was supposed to turn in his recommendation on the fee proposal by the end of the year.  I had assumed that he might compromise down and start with a fee on the shelters and let that sit for a few years.  Now he is in a position.  I'll bet he definitely counted on ATC compliance. 

Like Ditz, instead of answering real questions, Vesna turned loose the flying monkey brigade (which for all we know are just her in different forms) to avoid a simple question.  She did not want to respond to the article which undermined her constant cross bearing assertion that her guide service was a labor of love which existed for the purpose of bringing folks into the backcountry who would otherwise not be able to see it.  This article flips her justification upside down and she was left with no answer but to defend her obvious economic motives.  Better not to answer that.  Let's cite anectdotal tales and retired rangers who aren't willing to go on record.

I'm going to stick with my solution to the problem.  Tax her guide service and Leconte Lodge for using public land for private gain.  If Vesna brought 50,000 folks in and Leconte brings another 60 per night at a hundred per head,a five buck per client fee solves the backcountry "crisis".

Comment by Joey Bridges on December 26, 2011 at 1:29pm

well north indeed.

Comment by Jim Casada on December 26, 2011 at 1:26pm

John--I'm not at all surprised that Morgan Sommerville and the ATC oppose these fees.  I think the same is true of a lot of the current rank-and-file Park staff.  They just can't say so for fear of retribution.  Also, Sommerville was one of the last of the old-time rangers, those who got into the backcountry, understood it, loved it, and knew the area.  One of Vesna's acolytes always has a hissy-fit when locals are so much as mentioned (he's probably resident somewhere well to the north of the Smokies), but the flat-out reality of the matter is that rangers in yesteryear did a better job in many ways because they knew the local scene (and actually dared venture off the asphalt).

Jim Casada

Comment by Jim Casada on December 26, 2011 at 1:21pm

John--Although it has been pretty much below the radar on the Tennessee side of the Park, the handling of the archives and artifacts really irritated people in N. C.  I think it basically involved a sweetheart deal between Ditmanson and Lamar Alexander, although I haven't investigated the precise nature of their interaction (and the money involved) in detial.

What I do know, for certain, is that the folks in N. C. in general, and Haywood and Swain counties in particular, were blindsided.  There was no advance notification of stakeholders, at least in the case of Swain County, and that comes straight from the county commissioners.  They first learned of the matter through a newspaper column of mind and subsequently sent a strongly worded letter of protest putting them on record as being opposed to the move to store all the materials in Townsend (doubly stupid to move it outside the Park when all the environmental studies had just been done at Luftee and there is ample room for storage there).  Most folks in N. C. felt that fairness would have dictated that since all the scientific initatives are in Tenn. (Tremont, etc.) that it would have made sense to have some balance with cultural and historical initatives in N. C.

But here, as in some many other areas, Ditmanson seems tone deaf and attuned only to the high and mighty.  One poorly handled mess piles atop another.

Jim Casada

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