SFW letter to Tn State Parks Director Regarding B/C Fees at S. Cumberland

Mr. Robertson
Thanks for your response, however I find it difficult to agree with your assertion that taxpaying citizens are "appreciative" of the opportunity to pay to use public lands wherein no amenities other than a cumbersome reservation system are provided.  I also find it highly specious that, as public lands czar for our great state, you were unaware of the Smokies fee scandal since you seem to have followed their playbook to the letter and logically would have, given geographical proximity and commonality of purpose,  been keenly interested.  I have copied Rep. Harry Brooks who sponsored a resolution in the Tennessee State House of Representatives condemning that widely unpopular tax to use public lands.  This is especially troubling in a time when state coffers are enjoying a nascent surplus in tax revenue.

However, my biggest concern is your statement   "There is no public notice requirement in regard to implementing or raising state park fees."  I can assure you this is of grave concern to the 150 taxpaying members of Southern Forest Watch and all taxpayers who are aware of this dangerous trend.   On the basis of that sweeping statement you can charge taxpayers to use public lands for any manner of concocted reasons. That logic and approach are what the board of Southern Forest Watch question.  We would first like to have copies of all documented legislative and public support for this backcountry camping fee.   Was there a public comment period and what was the tally of those public comments?

We are adamantly opposed to this fee and see it as a dangerous trend instituted on your watch.   Our mission is to educate the public and stop fees that will disenfranchise citizens from accessing public lands for which they already pay taxes.   Please consider this letter our Tennessee Open Records Act search.  Please provide to us a copy the State's T.C.A. 11-3-120 management plan for each State park in which you plan to charge citizens for its use.  We understand that management plan will include, among other things, funding requirements.

Also, we are curious how this new fee does not go against Tennessee legislative intent.  T.C.A. 11-3-301, states:
It is the legislative intent that people who use the state parks be given the opportunity to voluntarily contribute to the maintenance, renovation, promotion, expansion, recreational and educational programs, and operations of such parks. Each state park shall provide a collection point, box or other suitable arrangement at which park users may make donations to the state park fund, with the exception of those state parks that the commissioner of environment and conservation may certify as not being suitable for the collection of such fee.
Has your agency given the people the opportunity to contribute instead of being charged for use?

This can all be avoided by rescinding the fee and working with vested groups to devise mutually acceptable solutions.   That is the mission of public lands managers, to manage resources on behalf of the citizens, not price them out of public lands they entrusted to your care.

John Quillen
Board President
Southern Forest Watch

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