Backpacking Fee

I’m not a lawyer; I’m educated in accounting. It has came to my attention that a non-profit organization has threaten to sue the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The basis is that the new fee imposed on backpackers is highly illegal. This is the organization: . They mentioned on their site that the fee is an “entrance fee.” They are indeed correct about the deed stipulation and the Smokies continues to not charge such fee. I have done some reading and I believe I have found the legal cause for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to legally collect fees from backpackers. Here a link to FAQ for the GSMNP: and here a quote from the same link:

“6. Will I be able to purchase an annual backcountry camping pass?

Backcountry fees will be collected under authority of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). FLREA permits the creation of annual passes for park entrance fees but not other fees, such as backcountry use fees. Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not have an entrance fee.”

So, that lead me to reading about the FLREA, again here the link:

Here the key quote from FLREA:

Expanded Amenity Fees are fees that provide direct benefits to individuals or groups. They include things like developed campgrounds, cabin rentals, highly developed boat docks and swimming areas. They may also include services like hookups, dump stations, special tours and reservations services.:”

The keywords from the above quote is “reservations services.” Which is essentially the primary purpose of the fee. I believe this is will be the government main argument and they did indeed follow through with a lot better reservation and planning services that were resulted of the fee.

The previous reservation system wasn’t broken, but it could have been improved and I actually like the new system. So, I will be gladly pay the $4 to enjoy such convenience service. I also live in an area where there are much more places to go backpacking that doesn’t cost money other than gas and food.

Feel free to share your opinion in the comment section.


8 thoughts on “Backpacking Fee

  1. Kevin,
    FLREA law says that a minimum of amenities must be provided for FLREA to apply. In backcountry sites there are but fire rings provided by the NPS. They are saying that the reservation system is an amenity. One that people don’t want. The public comments were 18-1 against the reservation system. The courts will decide but it is a tax imposed by an unelected bureaucrat against the wishes of backcountry users. Frontcountry has amenities. Backcountry does not. Sleeping on the ground, unimproved by the federal govt doesn’t count. Locals forfeited this land which was largely donated unlike other NPS units. The NPS is impairing use by forcing an onerous and cumbersome internt system. It is TONS more difficult to use than walking into the backcountry like the old days and registering at the trailhead. Never mind that you are paying for an empty campsite to begin with. It is a federal control issue and everyone should be questioning the deception driving it. If you look at the “follow the deception” link and still think this tax is okay, then we will probably find no common ground. I think that when you change justifications for the backcountry fee multiple times it is an illustration of an improperly vetted scheme.

    • National park and national forest are operated by two different departments within the U.S. Government. Each departments has their own rules and purpose, the national park has a lot more “protection” mentality towards it. Which is why if you look around the country all the national parks has reservation systems for campsites and a lot of restrictions towards where you can or cannot camp, as well as how many may stay at certain sites.. Some of the national parks out west cost a lot more money to camp plus the entrance fee, while some are like the Smokies’ old system. I’ve had to call the Backcountry Office 4 times within an hour just to get a permit for a campsite that requires reservation; another time before that I had to call 2 times to get someone on the other line.There is no “deception”, the money that coming from the fee collections has been put into use with what they promise the fee would be used. Beside, I’m going to assume you backpack the Smokies (I haven’t look at your blog, yet.), you know a lot of campsites aren’t that empty. I run to people all the time at various of campsites across the Smokies. I’ve only been alone at one campsite one time. Of course another campsite 3 miles away had people there. The only way to get alone in the Smokies is during the winter months camping in isolated places. The Park’s justifications has not change. I’ve looked at a link from 2011 outlining what the the fee will be use for and it’s the same today…

      P.S. Designated campsites were improved.. By both volunteers and park officials. The clearing of campsites, bear cables, fire rings, etc., did not just appear. 🙂

  2. As a campsite and trail volunteer I wholeheartedly disagree with your assessment of the backcountry conditions. I am also someone who has been to every backcountry site and stayed in most all multiple times. The deception lies in the park services own numbers of backcountry camping nights. The average is 2 people per campsite per night. In sites rated for up to 12 people your assertions are like the NPS, unprovable. You may be a fair weather weekend backpacker but go out during the week and in winter (which is the best time to be there anyway) and you will find them empty. The AT shelters are crowded during thru hiker season and much of the time because it draws folks who often lack backcountry skills and are fearful of the elements and desire man made shelter. Shelter that was provided by volunteers like myself. More deception from the NPS lies in their stated use of fee money. Per internal documents that I will gladly forward here for your publication, the memos clearly state, and I quote, “There will be no increase in revenue as a result of this fee. Only to recover costs associated with the reservation system.” That means no rangers, campsite inprovement or trail maintenance. This fee goes toward the reservation system and reservation system only. Any other use of those funds is outside of their authorization from the NPS. That is deception when they speak of rangers. I could go on and on. The bottom line is that the public didn’t want a fee and the NPS ignored public input, that is also deception. The public comments are 18-1 against it. You may think that being double taxed is ok, but you are in the minority. I have a copy of all the public comments. Did you make a comment to express your approval of the fee? Probably not because you probably didn’t know about it and that is the way the NPS would have liked for this to unfold. You are right about campsites being improved. I am one of the volunteers that improves them at NO cost to the NPS. There are no improvements done by the NPS out of NPS funds. Bear cables etc are provided by friends groups.

    • So where do you get your statistic from? In regard to the usage. Ah, what the point I don’t trust statistic if it cannot tell me the population and sample it used… I didn’t say the fee were used to improve the campsite, I said it was to improve the reservation status to monitor and control the usage. Which is why national parks have a different managing philosophy than the national forests.

      Edit: Just so there no confusion, I simply believe the fees are only associated with reservation system and I like the new reservation system. If they’re going make some campsites requiring reservation, the least they could do is make it easy to access to make such reservations. I’ve had some mixed experience trying to get a reservation for sites requiring them..

  3. Kevin,
    I will give you some credit for one thing. At least you are advocating for the system on the basis of wanting to use the reservation system and not the other bogus claims that have misled folks like the ranger ruse etc. I had a great deal of difficulty using the system the one time I did it. As opposed to dropping off a permit in the box and going at the drop of a hat, you couldn’t beat that system. Leave it to the federal govt to make something more complicated. Where I got my statistic is most recently documented from the park superintendent himself. Please watch the following video of the Blount County commission where we spoke on behalf of a resolution to have this fee condemned. (It passed by the way). Supt Ditmanson says that camper nights are somewhere in the 70 k per year range. That is the number from which you can divide the 113 campsites at 365 days per year. Here is a link to that youtube video. It is halfway down the page and you can watch the Superintendent give the stat after our individual speeches condemning the fee.

    • Interesting quotes from this link. The quotes regarding the coverages makes me want to put my tinfoil hat on. (I hate conspiracy theories) Then a quick Google only revealed one link: It makes me wonder, if the public inputs were such a short process and all the “officials” inputs were too late. Such as the one by the Blount County that you mentioned in your link. I found out about this in late winter or early spring of 2012. Last September I was at a campsite, and a man and a dog comes walking by.. I presumed it was a ranger as it was wearing clothes similar to park ranger, but he walked by so fast I didn’t have time to noticed his badge. I just saw his back in brown shirt, green pants and a dog… I figured if it was a ranger and I don’t know why didn’t he talk to me? I just told myself it probably a ranger who had good faith in backpackers using the old system properly. I think the organization had a weak argument using the entrance fee (Southern Forest Watch) as a primary defense. (I’m no legal analyst, I read financial statements.) Now, the argument in which the public completely against it through the OFFICIAL INPUT, I will retract my statements about a lawsuit being asinine and I assumed Southern Forest Watch would have used this on their website rather than the entrance fee b.s. Since they didn’t, I figured they just spouting off random hatred towards big government and that the way I saw it, you know? (Maybe I miss the invalid public input argument if so, I apologize) Using the public input process as a basis of the lawsuit would totally change the dynamic of my blog post. Because I focused on the amenity as the legal basis of the fee, which is the reservation system.

  4. MT.
    Count your blessings on the “not being a lawyer” part of it.
    The lawsuit is about to be filed. By Monday….unless the creek rises.
    A copy of the lawsuit will be posted eventually at
    You are correct about FLREA not being our focus.
    Our beef is with the process to adopt the tax and drum up support for the tax. Deceit was involved.
    Some unknown Park Service practices in managing our cherished national park are also remarkable.
    The process also violated the law.
    Our government lied to us.
    We feel like we’ve been robbed.

    • Well, this ought to be interesting then. When I found the link I posted above in respond to John’s comment it was dated in 2011, and it cited an organization as well as a business owner. (I’ve met the guide Vesna who co-owns A Walk in The Woods personally and she was for the fee as well as her team of guides.) I just presumed the public process took its place in legal manner since the 2011 article I posted above cited 4 different people who seems they could carry such influential voices for which side they were on. I’m educated in financial matter, as a result I’m taught to think and make decisions with the best available and relevant information.(Sometimes that information isn’t there.) When I found the link above dated back to 2011, I suppose I fell victim of assuming the public process actually took place and people who could influence the Park not to pursue this voiced their inputs. So, bottom line is I found information about this dated back to 2011 and assumed the proper public process took its place. If the officials of our great park is found guilty, then shame on them and I guess me for assuming such thing. I’m okay with being wrong from time to time, I just don’t like making the same mistake twice.

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