Monday, September 24, 2012

Southern Forest Watch to sue Smokies over new backcountry camping fee

A group called the Southern Forest Watch has recently sent a letter notifying officials at the National Park Service that it intends to file a lawsuit challenging the $4 per-person, per-night, backcountry camping fee approved last March. The letter, sent by Knoxville attorney J. Myers Morton, was mailed to Dale Ditmanson, Great Smoky Mountains National Park superintendent; Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service; as well as Congressional Representatives and Senators from Tennessee and North Carolina.

A proposal for a new backcountry fee system was announced in July of 2011, and immediately created a firestorm of controversy and debate within the backpacking community.

The Southern Forest Watch group argues that the backcountry camping fee is illegal under several federal statutes, including the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and the Administrative Procedures Act, and intends to file the lawsuit after the fee goes into effect in early 2013.

You can read the full document by clicking here.

What are your thoughts? Is this a relevant lawsuit, or a waste of taxpayer dollars?



Anonymous said...

It is a waste. The lawsuit won't proceed through court system.

The letter that was sent sounds worse than what a third grader would write.

Plus, what the idiots at Southern Forest don't understand---don't ya think that the NPS had lawyers go over this proposal before it was issued?

Oh, well. Its good for a laugh.

Anonymous said...

Its $4 a night. Pretty good value I would say. Now the park will need more money to defend itself against the lawsuit.

Tom said...

Pretty good value? $4 per night so I can talk to a reservation specialist? I've had no problem with the current reservation system. This is just the tip of the iceberg as NPS looks to charge fees/increase fees every opportunity they can get.

Citizen said...


You are a government employee.


You work for us!

John said...

Whenever "Anonymous" shows up to complain about us suing them, you know we have really struck some nerves over there.
Had "anonymous" been willing to negotiate with the user groups instead of thumbing his aristocratic nose at Peon user groups, none of this would have been necessary. When "anonymous" said that "the smokies wasn't special, it was just another unit in the NPS, he showed his true colors." I agreee with Myers. Get back to work, "anonymous". We don't pay you $176,000 per year to post on internet blog platforms.

Neil said...

I hate to belabor the obvious, but four dollars is a small amount, particularly for a camper considers what else can be purchased for the same price in order to camp in the back country of the Smokies. Insect repellent, maybe? Or a cheap poncho? But that's only for a night. Consider that for two or three nights of back country camping, a camper still pays less than a night in a small amount front country camp like Big Creek, and for roughly a week of back country camping, the camper still only pays the price that it would cost to stay a night at a popular front country camp, like Elkmont or Smokemont.

It's also worth remembering that this isn't the first restriction that park officials have "imposed on campers" in order to be responsive to the park's needs. For instance, many of the campsites along Hazel Creek have been redesignated as reservation only in order to account for the recent influx of anglers who want to fish the rainbow trout run out of the Fontana impoundment. While that almust certainly curtailed the campers' and anglers' previous freedom to use these sites, the new designation also, and more importantly, helped keep the amount of traffic and pressure on these sites and this creek at healthy, sustainable levels.

Spending time in the solitude of back country campsites allow a camper the pleasure of forgetting how popular the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is. It's unique for the volume of its visitors - at over 9,000,000 per year, it is the most visited in the nation - and it's one of the most economical - it requires no entrance fee; there's no drawing for campsites, and the campsites that area available are and even with a fee will be cheaper on the whole. To complain about a fee for backcountry camping is to ignore the broad range of amenities the park has always afforded its visitors and to focus on instead on the price of a couple of energy bars that a camper would also purchase to make a back country trip in the first place. Any camper who frequents the part loves the park; any person who loves it enough to return will not hesitate to support its maintenance and protection, even through a means as small as a four dollar fee.

This downtown, street-side Knoxville lawsuit against the still distant and wild deeps of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is nothing at all, but frivolous.

John said...

Hey Neil,
Since I backpack weekly and have hiked every trail in the park almost twice, I question all your assertions and rebut them summarily. Are you saying that it is okay to lie about campsite overcrowding to push a 4 dollar fee that will be 40 dollars in ten years? Why just backpackers? How about horses? Is it okay for the Superintendent to misrepresent support, suppress the public comments and disregard overwhelming opposition to the tune of 18 to one? I have a copy of all the comments, what is your last name and I will see what you had to say about the fee. Exactly. Another anonymous poster disseminating false information. Remember, if you have ties to the Sugarlands, all these postings are subject to legal scrutiny. We are true backcountry users and I've never heard of you. Very suspicious.

Rob C. said...

I don't mean to "belabor the obvious", but you obviously have not taken any of your precious time to look into why we are against this fee. It is not about $4, although if we succumb to that I believe that it will be at least $10 in a very short time. It is about the lies, deceit and invention of a problem that needs a solution. I agree that the more heavily used sites need to be regulated, but the majority are little used and should not require reservations. Most of us who are against the fee already contribute more in time and voluntary $ than we will under this plan, but this will price Boy Scout troops and lower income folks, like college students, out of the backcountry. I believe that is their goal. It will also be the tip of the iceberg as there will soon be fees on everything. They started charging to see the fire flies this year. According to the Parks own documents this fee will result in no additional funds to the park so other than imposing rules and regs on a very free spirited group of folks, if they can enforce them, it will not help the backcountry. They can't can't even keep tourons from feeding bears in sight of the road, so how are they going to cover 800+ miles of trail? Please take the time to look at the info on and then see if you still feel the same way about the issue. It is high time WE THE PEOPLE quit letting unelected officials tell us what we have to do.

Myers said...

That is the point.
The administration running the GSMNP has used deceit and downright dishonesty in pushing this tax.
FOIA productions show that.
It is not about the $4.00.
We are either a society with a government is bound by the law or a government is not bound by the law.
We will shed light on the latter. Citizens need to understand.

Anonymous said...

"We are true backcountry users and I've never heard of you. Very suspicious."

And again, John, you show why you are an idiot.

You think you know everyone that uses the park?

I laugh in you and your lawyer's face.

Neil said...

Hi folks,

Let me start off by apologizing for all the typos in my last post. I've been embarrassed all day. More to the point, I appreciate your responses. I realize the issue has already been batted around several public forums, and I'm pleased it's here as well: more discussion in athe public forum like thisan can only give an important issue like this more public attention.

I understand the different issues at stake here, particularly questions about the way the policy was made, but I chose to focus on the fee because it is the most immediate, unavoidable consequence of the policy and will be the only consequence most park users are likely to recognize if they're unaware of this ongoing discussion. We can't yet know with certainty what processes and procedures might have been sidestepped by government officials (at least not until some formal, legal inquiry), and we can't predict any definite, negative consequences this policy might have down the road (though it's easy to see how far an underwhelmingly finite amount of funds from the fee will stretch).

Let me pose a goodwill, food-for-thought question. I don't have an angle, and I'm not pushing an agenda by asking: what do the park, its visitors, and park employees gain if the side opposed to the policy gets what it wants? I'm not really wondering about the goals each side has, but I wonder what the lawsuit will ultimately do for the Smokies on the whole.

Again, this is just a question posed with good intent. I keep stressing goodwill here because this is a topic that obviously and justifiably raises emotions and blood pressures - that's not my goal. In light of that heated context, I probably won't be posting a last name.

Cheers, y'all - I look forward to hearing what you think.

Anonymous said...

"but I wonder what the lawsuit will ultimately do for the Smokies on the whole."

Ultimately, it won't do anything.

As it won't proceed through the court system.

They will see it as frivolous and toss it out.

Patriot said...

Then why are you so concerned and angry, Anonymous? If it's going to be tossed out, then you have no worries. Or do you? Hmmmm
he he he he.

Anonymous said...

I am not worried at all. Nor angry.

I find it quite humorous that a two bit group and a cracker jack lawyer came up with this "lawsuit".

Rob C said...

Since you apparently can't come up with a name on your own I would like to suggest King George III. I think he called us rabble.
IMHO the fee is not about the $ to them it is about control. These government types all know what is best for us,b ut we are not smart enough to realize it. You do not need to worry about us getting your last name, because even though we get a little heated in our rhetoric we are a peaceful bunch. The next time we go out for a cold one you are more than welcome to join us and find out how we have offered compromises and we didn't even get the courtesy of a reply. Hope to see you soon.

John said...

I apologize for the way I came across to you. We are so accustomed to being attacked anonymously by snipers like the guy on this blog that I get a bit defensive. Rob is correct, if you would ever like to sit down and hear what has been done and how they did it, I would love to meet you and share a beverage. Since you are a backpacker, I think you will find that we have the best interests of future backpackers at heart. Ditmanson is pricing boy scouts and underprivileged kids out of the park. I think they are the ones who need to be there the most. I'm old fashioned it that I don't think you are allowed to make up reasons to tax people for use of public land when backcountry visitation is down in the first place.

SmokyMtnsHiker said...

Ok. I thought of a really clever name that I'll use from now on.

Let me guess with the cold ones---the Southern Forest Wusses are nothing but a bunch of alcoholics that think they are "true" backpackers.

Again ---I laugh in your faces.

Myers said...

Your Highness.

You are 1 up on us.

You obviously know us (especially me).

Myers said...


"What do the park, its visitors, and park employees gain if the side opposed to the policy gets what it wants?"

Answer: We get an administration (government employees) which is in charge of caring for our cherished national park that honestly follows the law.

Nothing more, nothing less.

SmokyMtnsHiker said...

The current administration is honestly following the law.

And the courts will prove this when they throw out this joke called a lawsuit.

Anonymous said...


You are truely hillarious. You must be a very intelligent man or woman. I would say a woman due to such clever comments. It appears you know much about the needs of the park and how this fee will benefit it so much. Happy trails to you.

Rob C said...

Sticks and stoes King George, sticks and stones.
Wow! You've nailed us. We do enjoy socializing in public places and enjoying an adult beverage. Much unlike yourself who apparently enjoys holing up in your Mom's basement in your boxers and Che' T shirt, doing bong hits and posting things on blog sites that you would never have the stones to say to someone in person.

SmokyMtnsHiker said...

Name the place, princess rob, and I'll be happy to debate and make a fool of you one on one.

Neil said...

Rob and John,

A drink or two would be a pleasure. An empty (or emptied) glass always encourages an open mind. I still wonder whether a precedent for the practices of such restrictive and exclusionary governmental policy-making. It's a conversation for a cold one. My name should link to a public Google profile. Cheers.

SmokyMtnsHiker: I'd love to camp sometime. I can't imagine anyone better suited to stoke the fire and keep the flames higher.

Fun times, gentlemen.

Tom said...

Anonymous can be found commenting on similar articles that have covered this story. He/she is easy to spot by his/her comments. Can't imagine anyone other than an NPS employee would write such ugly comments against this movement. Who else would be in favor of a fee that funds no amenities, no improvements, no maintenance, no extra rangers? People with the NPS is who.

Danny Bernstein said...

Hold on. There's been no suit as of yet. Just the threat.

This backcountry fee has been approved by the Department of the Interior. It's been well-vetted so the odds of actually having a viable suit are small.

Where can you get a good place to stay the night with water and bear cables for $4 a night?

Rob C. said...

King George, or possibly Kevin,
I would be happy to meet you 6:45 Tuesday at the Bearden Beer Market. If you have some aversion to places where one can enjoy a cold beer then we could meet at the Panera Bread just the other side of Kingston Pike. I hope we can actually have a debate, which could be done on this forum, but all you have done is call us names.
"The letter that was sent sounds worse than what a third grader would write."
"Plus, what the idiots at Southern Forest don't understand---don't ya think that the NPS had lawyers go over this proposal before it was issued?"
"And again, John, you show why you are an idiot."
"I find it quite humorous that a two bit group and a cracker jack lawyer came up with this "lawsuit"."
"Let me guess with the cold ones---the Southern Forest Wusses are nothing but a bunch of alcoholics that think they are "true" backpackers."
Ad hominem attacks are generally considered poor form in debating. Just in case you don"t know what that means here is a definition from Wikipedia.
Abusive ad hominem (also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one's opponents in order to attack their claims or invalidate their arguments, but can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent's argument. This is logically fallacious because it relates to the opponent's personal character, which has nothing to do with the logical merit of the opponent's argument, whereas mere verbal abuse in the absence of an argument is not ad hominem nor any kind of logical fallacy.[6]
We could have a debate here if you would state your arguments instead of calling us names and trying to belittle us. Let me know about Tuesday.

Frank said...

Smokymtnshiker sounds like an anger management class might do you some good. What most don't realize is that the park changed their arguement for the fee FOUR times. I read somewhere last week that someone was for the fee because it would finally guarantee him a spot in a shelter and a clean campsite. I hope no one really believes that. I also recently read that a ranger walked into the leconte shelter and RUDELY woke up a sleeping backpacker to simply check for a permit. Its ok if your for the fee. However there are several of us that have decided to oppose it. I'm certain we can have a healthy debate. First I would like to hear from those who are for it,what they think it really will accomplish. It would help to hear from those that are not in bed with park. I believe that would include a couple of you that have already posted comments here.

Malabarista said...

This is pretty amusing watching the "shoe fit the other foot" was the fee opponents who got booked from another forum for personal attacks on fee proponents, and even on other people who didn't favor the fee but didn't favor the opponents' name calling and ridicule. Appears that it is cutting the other way on this forum.

There are some really legitimate reasons that this fee is a bad idea, and some good reasons for the park to consider some other funding options...without resorting to name calling and personal attacks.

It would be nice for some to meet and see if there is common ground. Sorry, I live too far away to participate.

John said...

Danny Bernstein,
How about the Nantahala National Forest for one place you can sleep on unimproved ground with no amenities for free. That will of course change if the Smokies fees get passed. This is a test balloon for all fees. But following your line of logic we should double pay for all government services. Shall I name all the other public lands you can camp for free like most of the state parks and most national parks that don't charge a backcountry fee? Why do we pay taxes in the first place? To get taxed again.
But I really have a better question for you since you are a hiking expert. You are very silent on the documented deception used to push this fee which will only generate about 180,000 dollars per year. Does it matter that the Superintendent is on record as saying there will be no excess revenue as a result of this fee. Please enlighten me with some wisdom that we are missing. You seem to indicate that it really doesn't matter how this thing is acheived, just as long as Ditmanson gets more of our money.

Neil said...

Yesterday people were patient with me posing questions, so I'll weigh in again. My disclaimer, for the record: I'm not affiliated with either side or representing any group's interests. My questions only represent my own interest in the policy.

I feel like I'm hearing three different reasons that are the primary problem with the situation: 1. there's a new fee; 2. the process of determining a fee wasn't transparent and failed to include/represent the opinions of devoted visitors to the park; 3. part of this process was a set of unreasonable goals the fee would fund. Given the tenor of the discussion today, the fee seems to be the sticking point. I don't think anyone will disagree that once a fee is set, the price will increase. They won't ask for $1 now with someday asking for $2. I'm not sure whether these goals are reachable - most here seem to think they aren't. Did NPS set goals with a clear timeline for completion, in which event the fee would become unnecessary, or did they leave it open, in which $1 gets you $2 gets you $4 gets you etc.?

I'm not sure I'm willing to let go of the fee as the issue, since its the most direct result of the questionable policy making. I can see how the fee indicates an lack of transparency and responsiveness to park visitors. But isn't that already the purview and prerogative of park administrators, whether they are national or local? I would be interested to know what sort of precedents exist for this policy making. In fact, I feel like that's one of the things a defense of the park's policy would cite first.

Consider this: a policy that seems to be unfair and may even be illegal has resulted in a $4 nightly fee for back country campers alone in the most popular park in the nation. Now, consider that back country campers in the second most popular park, Grand Canyon National, have to pay a $10 permit fee and $5 per person. In the third most popular, Yosemite, back country campers pay a $5 reservation fee and $5 per camper. In the fourth, Yellowstone, a $25 application fee is required. I could keep going, but these are enough examples to raise an issue we haven't really touched: has the NPS followed this means of making a policy, regarding fees in particular, before? I'm not offering this up as an argument. I really don't know.

I like Malabarista's comment that it would be nice to have a conversation where we can find some common ground on the subject. The discussion keeps happening across a line instead of around a circle. I'm not a debater and have no desire to become one, but that BBM invite to have a drink and a talk sounded promising.

Anonymous said...