Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Times They Are a-Changin' for Backpackers

Earlier in the week the U.S. Postal Service announced that they will be conducting a study over the next several months to determine the need for some 3700 retail post offices. Potentially, the USPS could eliminate more than 10% of all their post offices around the country. Most of these closings will likely occur in rural areas, such as those along the Appalachian Trail.

A.T. thru-hikers, and section hikers, use the services of post offices to forward, or pre-deliver, food, gear and other supplies as they proceed along the trail.

There has been much made in the press this week as to the consequences that will be felt by backpackers as a result of these potential closings. Many backpackers fear that it will become much more difficult to thru-hike trails like the A.T., or the Pacific Crest Trail, due to possibility of having to carry significantly more weight in their packs. But I would argue that this fear may be somewhat unfounded. I believe the private sector will likely step-in to fill the void left by many post office closures. It's not too hard to envision places like the Hike Inn at Fontana Dam, as an example, to take up the business of handling drop boxes for hikers. If there's a demand for a product or service, some hungry entrepreneur will jump at the opportunity to fill the need. The downside, of course, is that hikers may have to pay a little more since the federal government will no longer be subsidizing parts of the cost.

Speaking of higher costs for backpackers; does anyone have any thoughts, comments or concerns regarding Friday's announcement that the Great Smoky Mountains is considering a move to make all backcountry camping permits (for all sites) go through an online/call-in reservation service?

Do you have any problems paying the $2.25 to $10.00 fees that are being proposed to make a reservation for a backcountry campsite? In comparison, most other parks with similar backcountry operations charge between $10 and $30 per reservation, and many have additional per person or per night fees.

Given the avalanche of debt we currently find ourselves in, I have to believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Down the road, we're very likely to see parks find new and different ways of charging fees for services that have been free in the past.


5 comments: said...

For the benefits, I think it would be worth it. I've heard of issues with campers coming in to shelters near forest service roads and using them for 'parties'. I think it will help backpackers in the long run as long as the fee is reasonable.

Chuck Allen said...

I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail with out a single mail drop, so I know it does not have to be a problem. I think that I actually had an advantage over ny fellow hikers who were strapped to hitting Post Offices during open hours and days. I just re-supplied as I went and had no problems or heavy loads along the way.

Yes I am opposed to paying back-country permit fees, though I am willing to pay for it if I need to AND I do like the idea of the fees being used to fund more backcountry Rangers. Some of these Smokies sites need to be looked after a little closer!

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Chuck - interesting you bring that up. I have never seen a ranger in the backcountry of the Smokies - nor in any other national park or forest that I've ever been to....

But do agree with you, some shelters and campsites in the Smokies need to be looked after a little more often....

Chuck Allen said...

An article that I read (maybe in The Smoky Mountain Times) said that that was one thing that the Park would do with the revenue. They wanted to fund more backcountry Rangers to better look after things.

Steven said...

Personally, I'm not against the park creating self sustaining revenue, and I'm not against paying a fee to make my reservation online 24/365.(After all, we're not having to pay an entry fee like at other parks.)I'm not entirely sure that there could possibly be enough revenue generated from permit/reservation sales to support the number of rangers that would be necessary to cover such a broad area as the park is. I'd rather them be clear upfront about what the money would go to, and what would happen in the long term if no significant changes were made.

Another issue I have is that the price of things never seems to stay the same. Who's to say that we don't get a great initial offer by this private company to take over the business of handing the reservations/permits, only to have them raise the rates later on?

Third, who's to say which sites will be looked after and which ones won't? I'm pretty sure you'd have to man Icewater Springs, LeConte, and Mt Collins on most every weekend. I don't think I've ever stayed at either of those when there wasn't some reservation "violators."

I have personally seen a couple of rangers in the backcountry. Once at Icewater Springs. I've also met "Ranger Dave" over at LeConte as well, but I don't think he's as an enforcement ranger though.

With park visitation on the decline, someone had better take a good hard look before any decisions are made in stone before they dampen the spirits of even the most ardent backcountry visitor.

I do plan on coming up next Tuesday for the open house. I'm hoping to get a few of these questions answered then.