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. http://www.westernslopenofee.org/pdfuploads/Fee_Policy_White_Paper.pdf

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.

Recreation.gov 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 Jo Neuspickel on August 15, 2022 at 1:12pm

Sad that it has come to this! We all knew when they implemented the backcounty tax that that was just the beginning and here we are......................    But I also heard that they were not going to enforce the parking tax......

Comment by John Quillen on August 15, 2022 at 10:11am

Great Smoky Mountains News Release

Release Date: August 15, 2022

Contact: Dana Soehn, Dana_Soehn@nps.gov, 865-712-4928

Park announces 2023 fee program changes

Great Smoky Mountains National Park leadership announced the decision to adopt the Park it Forward parking tag program and to increase camping fees beginning next year. Parking tags will be required to be displayed on any motor vehicle parked within the park boundary beginning March 1, 2023. Approved parking rates are $5 for a daily parking tag, $15 for a parking tag for up to seven days, and $40 for an annual parking tag. All revenue will stay in the park to provide sustainable, year-round support focusing on improving the visitor experience, protecting resources, and maintaining trails, roads, historic structures, and facilities.

“Today marks a significant milestone in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I’m honored to be a part of it,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “I have been incredibly encouraged by all the support, from across the country, and especially here in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, for the opportunity to invest in the future care of this treasured park. We take great pride in being the country’s most visited national park, but that distinction comes with tremendous strain on our infrastructure. Now we will have sustained resources to ensure this sacred place is protected for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.”

The Park it Forward and camping fee proposal was initially announced in April, and the public was encouraged to formally submit its comments. This invitation generated 3,677 correspondences, and a total of 15,512 independent comments were identified, categorized, and assessed as part of the review process. Correspondences were received from all 50 states. Overall, 85% of correspondences expressed either strong support or included constructive ideas to improve the program. None of these correspondences voiced opposition to the fee itself. About 41% and 16% of all correspondences were from Tennessee and North Carolina residents, respectively. Support from the six counties bordering the park varied with 82% of Blount County (TN), 73% of Sevier County (TN), 90% of Cocke County (TN), 60% of Graham County (NC), 60% of Swain County (NC), and 85% of Haywood County (NC) residents who submitted feedback expressing either support or neutrality for the new parking fee.

The most prevalent comment regarding tag duration was support for an annual tag. In response, the Director of the National Park Service has authorized permission for the park to offer an annual tag, which will allow parking throughout the park from the date of purchase. While any visitor may purchase an annual parking tag, the approval for this option was sought by park leadership specifically for local residents who are more likely to visit multiple times throughout the year. Park managers will continue to incorporate substantive feedback into the Park it Forward implementation plan. Operational details, including where to purchase Park it Forward tags, will be posted on the park’s website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fees.htm.

Use of all park roads will remain toll free. Parking tags will not be required for motorists who pass through the area or who park vehicles for less than fifteen minutes. The tags will not guarantee a parking spot at a specific location. Parking will continue to be available on a first-come, first-serve basis throughout the park. Unsafe roadside parking will be eliminated at specific areas across the park to enhance the visitor experience by improving motorist and pedestrian safety, increasing traffic flow, and protecting roadside resources.

Of the correspondences related to camping, 78% expressed support for backcountry fee increases and 82% expressed support for frontcountry fee increases. Backcountry camping fees will be $8 per night, with a maximum of $40 per camper. Frontcountry family campsite fees will be $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 per night for sites with electrical hookups. Group camps, horse camps, and picnic pavilions fees will primarily increase by between 20 and 30 percent depending on group size and location. Rates for daily rental of the Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin in Elkmont will be $300 and $200, respectively. For a complete listing of all frontcountry facility rates, please visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2023-fees.htm.

Year after year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park. Over the last decade, visitation increased by 57 percent to a record 14.1 million visits in 2021. With rising costs and more visitation, additional revenue is critical to support upkeep of the park. The new fee changes will provide an opportunity for park users to directly contribute towards protecting the park.

The authority to charge these fees is provided in the Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). All funds generated through these recreation fees will remain in the Smokies to directly support costs for managing and improving services for visitors such as trail maintenance, custodial services, trash removal, and supporting more law enforcement staffing across the park. For more information about the public comment process, please visit the park website at

Comment by John Quillen on July 28, 2022 at 3:19pm

Comment by John Quillen on July 21, 2022 at 11:30am

Thanks Jo! 

Comment by Jo Neuspickel on July 21, 2022 at 11:20am

Signed by me

Comment by John Quillen on July 21, 2022 at 10:59am

Let's go ahead and get everyone to sign this. Ca$h needs to understand that we can get along without him.

https://chng.it/FJjhYF9Chz

Comment by John Quillen on June 17, 2022 at 12:13pm

WATE just aired a segment about the opposition to the parking fee. They referred to it as "double taxation" and borrowed our language from which the NC resolution was drafted.  Here is a link to the story.  Ca$h isnt going to like this at all. Perhaps we should have everyone mail a copy to him.

https://twitter.com/SouthHighlander/status/1537822318982045696

Comment by John Quillen on June 15, 2022 at 8:00am

The North Carolina legislature just passed a resolution condemning the Smokies parking fee.  This is some mud in the eye of Cash and crew.

https://wlos.com/news/local/newly-filed-nc-house-joint-resolution-o...

Comment by John Quillen on June 2, 2022 at 1:56pm

Thanks Erik. It was difficult to cram it all in there. But, after reading the ignorant comments there and elsewhere, it is obvious that the largely emotional millennials generation is okay with any amount of money being charged by the NPS because they help the bears and wildflowers and butterflies. I asked the editor about a print version but he hasn't responded yet.

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on June 2, 2022 at 12:16pm

Nice job, John.

It's difficult when there are so many misrepresentations (to be kind) widely circulated and commonly reinforced to even know where to begin when limited to a mere 600 words for a rebuttal. 

Did KNS indicate when it would appear in print?

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