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 Mike Maples on December 29, 2011 at 2:19pm

Jim, Dana, Chris and Kelly: I forgot about the exercise program for Shrimp at $600,000. I thought we were to cook them.

Comment by Jim Casada on December 29, 2011 at 1:51pm

Chris--Well, yes and no.  Those are the steps, but you forgot to add that likelihood of success often depends on just how outrageous the project is, whether or not it is of the right political flavor, and whether or not it tickles the fancy of someone in a position of "dole out the money" power.  I spent enough years in the ivory tower of higher education to know that a fair part of grantsmanship is a game, and much of what gets funded falls squarely into the general category Mike Maples offers--pure, unadulterated waste which titillates the fancy of some bureaucrat in the maws of entities such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, etc.  Conservatives need not apply is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Jim Casada 

Comment by Kelly Hawkins on December 29, 2011 at 1:31pm

Unbelievable. I would like to know how one goes about putting in for these studies and research and then the crazy person who reviews the requests and.....grants them money.  I know I should not be baffled but right now I am.

You are right Mike, money is always found for the things that they really want to support. 

Comment by Mike Maples on December 29, 2011 at 1:11pm

Just another couple of examples if the GOV really needed new rangers it could easy find the money.

Another reason to say NO to the backcountry fees. Let's show examples of Waste from extra taxes:
Obama's stimulus spending: University in Indiana studying why young men do not like to wear condoms ($221,355)
Obama's stimulus spending: University in New York researching young adults who drink malt liquor and smoke pot ($389,357)
Just a couple to prove a point. The GOV got the money it needs for 2 new rangers if it wants or needs them bad enough. It's all about power.

Comment by Jim Casada on December 29, 2011 at 10:27am

Dana--Precisely.  Of course if researchers are scared of retaliation, maybe concessionaires feel it is necessary (figuratively) to climb in bed with Park leaders in order to ensure favorable treatment. 

I would add that is not universally true, because I know that at least some fly fishing outfitters have had the integrity to go on record (signing petitions) in opposition to the backcountry fees proposal.

Jim Casada


Comment by Jim Casada on December 29, 2011 at 9:28am

Dana makes a number of interesting points about commericalization, conflicts of interest, and arguably inappropriate activities by Supt. Ditmanson.  I'd like to comment/elaborate on them further.

1.  There really is no question, parse it however you like, that Vesna and all the concessionaires are in a questionable position when it comes not only to the backcountry camping fees proposal but to taking a stance on any Park-connected issue.  Why?  Simply because they are benefitting from a taxpayer-supported Park.  Personally, I think it would simply matters to remove ALL concessions of any kind, and it would be an environmental boon as well.

2.  Turning the Park into a complete wilderness designation would be highly problematic for a number of reasons.  It would mean ending Park help with decoration days and cemetery visits along the North Shore (not that they have really lived up to commitments in this area).  It likley would mean closure of existing roads other than 441 (think of all the side roads such as those into Cades Cove, Straight Fork, Parsons Branch, etc.).  I'm not sure about historic structures but they could be problematic as well.  That being said, I'm all for getting rid of the horse concessions and everything associated with them.

3.  The North Shore Road matter is already on very questionable grounds.  I was, for a number of years, a member of Citizens for the Economic Development of Swain County.  No more.  I think they are too highly politicized and made a "settlement" which at this point in time is anything but a done deal.  Only a quarter of the agreed-upon settlement has been paid, and as political and fiscal matters presently stand on the national level, I don't see any certainty that the remaining monies will be forthcoming.  If they aren't, the folks in swain County have every right to bring the matter back to the forefront.  I say that as someone who doesn't want the road but also as an individual who grew up in Swian County and who recognizes that a commitment was made.  Sen. Alexander has been pretty much MIA on this matter of late, it would seem, but he was all too readily available to make a sneaky deal to get the Park archives and artifacts relocated outside the Park (and without Ditmanson following proper procedure).  Mind you, I put this more in Ditmanson's lap than in Alexander's.

4.  The whole Mt. Leconte issue reeks.  It's a money-making operation in the middle of the Park.  It's environmentally a big negative when it comes to everything from how the food and supplies are stocked to the impact of lots of people concentrated in an artificial situation.  Historically, there's some of the same dubious linkages associated with the "special" folks and their privileges at Tremont.

Jim Casada

Comment by Mike Maples on December 28, 2011 at 2:06pm

Maybe, they can get 2 rangers out of all this mess.

Click on the pic for a bigger view.

Comment by Joey Bridges on December 28, 2011 at 10:07am

Comment by Martin Hunley on December 27, 2011 at 11:23pm


I have read that book as well. It was an eye opener... I read it back in the early 90's. I also read The Road Less Traveled. I enjoyed that book a lot. I would say I need to read them again. i would have a totally different view of from the life knowledge I have gained since then. Especially the way corporate America has shit all over my outlook on life...

Comment by Joey Bridges on December 27, 2011 at 8:05pm

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