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 August 19, 2019 at 4:36pm

I received a response about the Radnor Lake jogging restriction today. And here it is.

Mr. Quillen,


Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding jogging at Radnor Lake State Park and State Natural Area. This is a question we often get from our visitors. While this restriction is obviously not popular with all visitors, in the end TDEC believes it is a net positive for the park and the public.


Radnor is intended as a wildlife oasis in the middle of a growing metropolis, so everything we do at Radnor is intended to help preserve the unique characteristics that make Radnor so wonderful. Because of its location, Radnor hosts approximately 1.6 million visitors (and growing!) per year. This makes Radnor the most visited state natural area in the State of Tennessee and top 5 in annual attendance for a Tennessee state park as well.  However, Radnor is far from the largest park, so the trails can get crowded on busy days. TDEC believes that allowing trail running would add to that congestion and, more importantly, would distract from our mission and the true purpose and beauty of Radnor: wildlife viewing and birding. Running detracts from the tranquil environment we seek to create in order to promote great chances for wildlife viewing, as it can be interpreted by some species as a predatory action. Prohibiting pets on trails is a similar wildlife viewing-focused safeguard we employ that, though sometimes unpopular, is intended to bring the visitor as close to wildlife as possible.


It’s important to note that running is not completely prohibited in Radnor. Visitors are welcome to jog along the paved portion of Otter Creek Road within the park that is not open to vehicular traffic. While not a dirt trail, this 2 miles of roadway still gives visitors the chance to run in nature and be present in the verdant beauty of Middle Tennessee. Also, there are two Metro Nashville parks (Percy Warner and Edwin Warner) with great trails that allow jogging and numerous other recreational activities just a few miles from Radnor Lake. We also have some other great state parks near Nashville at which you can do many of those activities.


Also, Radnor Lake is not the only wildlife observation area in the country to have this rule in place.  For your convenience, I have provided two examples of other managed public areas with the primary focus of wildlife observation below that prohibit running on trails:
All animals and plants in the sanctuary are protected. Please take only photos and memories. We recommend that you bring water, bug spray, binoculars, and a camera when you explore the boardwalk. (Water bottles, bug spray, and binocular rentals are available in the Blair Audubon Visitor Center ...


Lastly, this particular safeguard has been in place for over 20 years. At the time it was implemented, the park’s local non-profit support organization, Friends of Radnor Lake, was very supportive of this decision. Also, the Radnor resource management plan (last updated December 2016, attached) specifically states that jogging is prohibited in the park, and all RMPs are available for public viewing upon request.


We believe this preservation effort has protected a unique environment where people can escape the hustle of life in town to a designated birding park/natural area. Numerous birding enthusiasts travel to Radnor Lake annually just to bird watch during different times of the year, and our goal is to preserve that exceptional environment.


For your convenience, I have attached some additional links to highlight our mission and the primary reasons Radnor Lake was saved from development in 1973, as well as examples of why our 1.6 million visitors annually come to the natural area to enjoy these unique wildlife viewing experiences just 8 miles from downtown Nashville. 

Comment by John Quillen on August 19, 2019 at 10:51am


If you purchase through Amazon, you can make sure we receive a portion of your purchase at no extra cost by using this link.  and designating Southern Forest Watch.

Thanks again.  Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Comment by John Quillen on August 19, 2019 at 10:39am

Thanks Mark,

I don't usually do this but as we are rounding the second half of the year, our SFW coffers are very low. The only thing we really spend money on is this blog, which is $35 per month. So, if you may be thinking of your end of year, tax deductible donations, please consider Southern Forest Watch. You may donate at this link,

Many of you have been ardent supporters from the beginning and we SO appreciate you. Thanks to everyone who contributes and works to keep public lands in public hands. Our voices are needed now more than ever as we face assaults on our outdoor freedoms like never before. If you don't have  paypal access, we still accept donations the old fashioned way.  Just make your contribution to

Southern Forest Watch,

3701 Lancaster Drive,

Knoxville, TN 37920

Comment by Mark Cooke on August 15, 2019 at 12:04pm

The deadline for the NEPA comments is August 26th, not the advertised date of 8/12 in the Outside magazine. Even though many, including myself are skeptical about the Federal Govt listening to folks like us, we still have to continue to speak out. 

It says on their page ( in the upper left hand corner "Your voice in Federal decision-making". So, I encourage you to take 5 minutes and let them know you are against them taking away our Public Opinion when the Forest Service wants to do whatever just to expedite their desires. There have been 27,466 comments thus far so please add yours to the comments. If a comment looks like it was from a mass mailing (cookie-cutter type) they throw it out and don't count it. Tell them straight up in your own words.

Comment by John Quillen on August 13, 2019 at 5:36pm

I haven't heard a response from the director of Radnor Lake regarding the jogging restriction. So I contacted his boss this morning. I did receive a response from the director of the Radnor Lake "Friends" Group. Here is what she said. (For the record, Frozen Head is also a Class 2 area)

Hello, Mr. Quillen.
Thank you for your email.  In the early 1970's the State passed the Natural Areas Preservation Act to protect land, water, native plants and wildlife in Tennessee. Radnor Lake is a Class II Natural Area and State protected land.  This classification limits use of the natural areas, which is everything other than Otter Creek Road, to walking and observing.   
There was no specific incident. These have always been the rules we follow.
Please let me know if you have any other questions.  I am glad you are drawn to Radnor!


Tina Corkum
Director, Friends of Radnor Lake
Comment by John Quillen on August 11, 2019 at 6:15pm

Thanks for commenting Mark. Not that our comments matter to these kings in the first place. That may be the best reason for doing away with them. If they were just honest and said so, I would probably commend them. These comments, we learned, are just that. Nothing is incorporated as a result. But someone can FOIA all those and stick it in their face.

Comment by Mark Cooke on August 11, 2019 at 2:11pm

Just commented on the NEPA proposed changes that would eliminate public input and increase categorical exclusions so that the "Almighty Dollar" can be obtained without regard to OUR public lands. At the time I dropped my comment there were over 18,000 sent. Thanks to Dustin for bringing this to our attention, and all those on this site that took the time to voice an opinion. 

Comment by John Quillen on August 7, 2019 at 4:28pm

just commented and I hope everyone here will as well.

Comment by John Quillen on August 7, 2019 at 4:26pm

You have got to  be kidding me, Dustin. 

The Trump administration is quietly trying to strip public input from the decision-making process used by the U.S. Forest Service. 

I'm signing that for certain, not that the FS incorporates comments anyway.

Comment by Dustin M on August 7, 2019 at 4:09pm

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