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 John Quillen on December 31, 2022 at 6:57pm

Looks like Ca$h has decided that mountain biking is another revenue stream for the Smokies.  So he is going to build some trails on our land and charge us to use them.

Mountain Bike Trail Approved For Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Approval has been given for a series of mountain bike trails to be built in the Wears Valley of Great Smoky Mountains National Park/NPS file

Approval has been given for a mountain bike trail to be built in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but there's no money dedicated for its construction, and park staff are still looking into how it should be operated.

The trail is proposed to be built within the Wears Valley portion of the Foothills Parkway in the Tennessee half of the park. According to a park release, the purpose of the project is to enhance visitor experience by providing a mountain bike trail as a unique recreational opportunity in this area of the park.

Previous NPS planning efforts completed between 1968 and 1984 identified Section 8D of the Wears Valley as one of the most desirable areas for recreational development. While more than 800 miles of trails exist in the park, fewer than 8 miles are designated for biking. Public roads within the park are open to biking, but no purpose-built mountain biking trails currently exist.

After conducting an environmental assessment on the proposal, the park staff selected an alternative to build a mountain bike trail system with approximately 4.2 miles of easy trail, 2.9 miles of moderate trail, and 4.7 miles of advanced trail for a total of 11.8 miles of mountain bike trails. The alternative would also include approximately 2.3 miles of pedestrian-only trails in the project area, for a total of 14.1 miles of trails. An approximately 0.93-mile access road would also need to be constructed to access the mountain bike trail system and trailhead. Amenities at the trailhead would include a bike wash and repair station, restrooms, and picnic tables. An informational kiosk for orientation, trail etiquette, and rules for mountain biking would also be constructed at the trailhead.

“We understand the public’s desire to have a purpose-built bike trail, and this marks a step for potential future development of a trail in Wears Valley,” said Great Smoky Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Having the signed [Finding of No Significant Impact] allows us the opportunity to explore potential funding paths for both the construction and the annual operational costs.”

Next steps include a business analysis by the NPS to examine possible operational strategies for a mountain bike trail system. The selected alternative may also include a concession/bike rental building and/or a fee collection station, depending on the identified operational strategy. No funding for construction has yet been identified.

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Comment by John Quillen on November 8, 2022 at 6:07pm

Looks like the NPS is following the Ditmanson model of getting Leconte Lodge to make their parking pass plan look like the greatest thing ever.

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on August 30, 2022 at 5:02pm

I'd bet Blackberry Farm that the Blue Ridge Parkway is already looking into parking fees. Wouldn't be surprised if the Big South Fork is too.

Unchecked authority equates to impudent power which invariably expands and corrupts. 

Comment by John Quillen on August 24, 2022 at 10:36am

This is why I cancelled my subscription to the Knoxville News Sentinel yesterday.

Comment by John Quillen on August 18, 2022 at 2:37pm

We need to promote this petition and get some media to cover our lack of confidence in Cash.  If you haven't signed it, please consider doing so for all the reasons Mark, Erik and others have righteously pointed out. I will send it to the President myself if we get enough signatures on this thing since our local elected officials are promoting it for the NPS.

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on August 18, 2022 at 2:05pm

At the end of an article in Wedensday’s KNS:

“He (GSM Superintendent Cassius Cash) said Smokies officials visited and talked to other parks across the nation. He said there is a ‘buzz’ in the National Parks System about what is happening with the parking tag model.”

Don’t you know it?! To be so bold in ignoring restrictions in the law, to be so casual in contradicting your own agency’s manual on fees, to be so blatantly dishonest with the American public in your presentations and press releases – other park administrators, seeing that (“Holy cow, it worked!”), have to be chomping at the bit to try their hand.

It reminds me of the original backpacker tax in GSM back in 2013 and getting to see some of the administrative record thanks to Southern Forest Watch’s FOIA request. I commented at the time that within the Department of Interior, from both Atlanta and D.C., the banter and palpable giddiness in communications approving various requests for the implementation or expansion of fees was bizarre – until one pauses for a moment to realize their bureaucratic titles, their very jobs, depend on perpetrating these things.

Yes, I bet the parking tags are creating a “buzz” alright.

Comment by John Quillen on August 18, 2022 at 9:55am

Funding from the new parking fee and from the Great American Outdoors Act enacted in 2020 will provide the most new financial support for the Great Smokies since the park was created in 1934,” retired U.S. Senator from Tennessee Lamar Alexander said. “Every penny raised from the fee will be spent on creating a better visitor experience in the Smokies. Superintendent Cassius Cash and the National Park Service deserve thanks from all of us who enjoy the Smokies for solving a big problem with an obvious solution.      

Now we know why Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty don't bother to respond to email questions about this new tax. They got their marching orders from Lameass.  I hope everyone remembers this when they vote.

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on August 16, 2022 at 10:09pm

And to Mark Cooke's question below:

"Where is the accountability on a proposal like this on where the monies will REALLY go. Does anyone care? How about transparency?"

Sadly, I'm convinced most don't care, despite it being another form of ambiguity. Theirs is a blind faith. It's why Superintendent Cash can bemoan not having the additional fee and concessionaire revenue of Yosemite and Yellowstone and people apparently swallow hook, line, and sinker his implication (actually, explicit at one point in the Maundy Thursday video where he said “we feel that our visitors deserve just as much of a service as a visitor at Yosemite or Yellowstone . . .”) that those parks have no worries the likes of GSM. Meanwhile, a quick check on reveals that GSM has a total of $236 million in deferred maintenance (some 80% related to roads), while Yosemite’s number is said to be $555 million (more than 2.3 times that of GSM) and Yellowstone’s $640 million (more than 2.7 times that of GSM). As I said in my submitted comments, it's never enough.

Sometimes I wonder if NPS administrators are actually that ignorant or, instead, they're counting on the public to be so ignorant. To that quandary I believe I've landed on my answer in the form of a Forrest Gump quote: "I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happenin' at the same time." 

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on August 16, 2022 at 9:22pm

What an absolute joke.

As Tom and (I'm sure) plenty of others have wondered, what constitutes a "correspondence" and what qualifies as an "independent comment"? Let the spin -- oh, never mind the niceties, let the lies begin!

According to the press release:

"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."

My first question is, what did the other 15% of correspondences state? If they're outside the 85% (please!!) who expressed support or included constructive ideas, what is there to express other than you're opposed to the fees?!

Secondly, what's "constructive"? I felt like I offered plenty of constructive ideas in my submitted comments (ditch the plan topping the list), but as any dimwit could see (I pasted what I sent the NPS on this board about 1 page back) I'm adamantly opposed to the illegal parking fees, increased frontcountry camping fees, and especially the total dereliction of duty and betrayal of purpose that backcountry fees represent. Yet I could be categorized/spun to be in favor of such fees by lumping "constructive" with those offering "strong support". You can imagine how far this could be taken: "get your NPS head out of your NPS backside" could be construed as constructive -- and therefore, by association, "strong support". 

Back to the top and how might they be differentiating "correspondence" and "independent comments":

If, by "correspondence," they mean an exchange, then you simply select comments that support your predetermined course and reply with a simple "thank you for submitting your comments". Presto! You've created a correspondence that can be manipulated to serve your dishonest intentions. 

Otherwise, stuff the ballot box while using interchangeable, yet undefined terms that gloss over the misinformation in the press release -- and don't answer challenges to the BS you've spread.  A complicit and incompetent media and largely distracted and undiscerning public will speed you over any minor bumps that arise.

Government Ambiguity 101.

What a stupendous insult to the American people, even to those who throw their unquestioning support behind anything the NPS says or proposes. They're lying, after all, to them as well. This is the agency such folks would trust with still more money (remember, an additional $1.3 BILLION is now flowing annually to the NPS as a result of the Great American Outdoors Act) while encouraging -- ensuring -- even more brazen behavior in the future. 

The end never justifies the means, and in the end, we do, indeed, get the government we collectively deserve.

Comment by John Quillen on August 16, 2022 at 9:06am

Cash it forward indeed, Mark. Great points.  It seems as if my esteemed Senator can't be bothered with this either.

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