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 John Quillen on Friday

Yes, Erik. And on the heels of your insightful observations, Ca$h has closed three more backcountry camping sites. They may end up like Scott Mtn, closed in perpetuity.  https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/2023/02/03/greenbrier-roa...

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on Thursday

The NPS’s new motto should be “All things to all people – strapped not included.” What’s to prevent zip lining from being next (besides, perhaps, well-heeled commercial operations in beautiful Sevier Co)? After all, the case could be made that while both are, in essence, thrill-seeking activities unconducive to contemplation and appreciation of nature, zip lining might very well leave a lighter mark on the land than constructing a network of mountain bike trails.

According to the NPS, the trailhead area alone would cover 2.4 acres. Its preferred option is the one with the most trail mileage, the longest access road, and the largest temporary and permanent footprint [GRSM-Wears-Valley-Revised-EA-Feb-2022-1.pdf (wate.com)]. How does an agency charged with protecting our public land and knowing full well that numerous mountain biking trails already exist throughout the surrounding area issue a Finding of No Significant Impact [FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT Wears Valley Mountain Bike Trail S...] in its environmental assessment? If any entity not named LeConte Lodge or Blackberry Farm decided to – let’s be honest – destruct more than 25 acres within the Great Smokies, would such a person or organization be found by the NPS to have caused no significant impact?

Another staple of the NPS’s dysfunctional approach is expansion and construction while complaining endlessly of having insufficient funds. If a bureaucratic agency can’t construct and maintain a proposed “unique recreational opportunity” without instituting new fees, it shouldn’t even be under consideration. It strikes me that the NPS is likely eager to further entrench the expectation in peoples’ minds that any activity on their public lands carries with it an accompanying fee.

Comment by Erik Gerhardt on Thursday

The following editorial cartoon which appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel as a commentary on GSMNP backcountry fees back in 2013 also proved prophetic in its parking meter imagery while underscoring how quickly and easily sheep can be steered. Today, the Knoxville News-Sentinel has no editorial cartoonist, of course, and for original content with any sort of investigative reporting or critical thinking, doesn't rise to the standard of a neighborhood newsletter. Fast forward another decade after inappropriate mountain bike trails have been cut, more pavement passed off as needed and progressive, and fees for mountain biking implemented – what then might an unquestioning public accept as normalized activities, tactics and costs, especially with no press willing to check bureaucratic mismanagement and overreach?

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

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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.

https://www.wate.com/news/smoky-mountains/leconte-lodge-launches-su...

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.

https://www.change.org/p/fire-superintendent-cassius-cash-for-charg...

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.

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