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Topic: GSMNP Fee is official< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 06 2012, 6:37 pm  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I just received this from the park:
QUOTE
Commercial Use Authorization holders:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has just received approval from the Director of the National Park Service to implement a fee for backcountry camping.  The Park will be issuing a press release on March 7 informing the public of this news.  Our plan is to implement a fee sometime in 2013 after we have selected and tested a new backcountry reservation system that meets our goal of providing improved visitor service.


I think this applies to everybody, but it certainly applies to commercial groups.


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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 06 2012, 6:47 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I don't really have an opinion on this...I'm gonna use the Park...so I'll just have to pay it.

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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 8:33 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

sweet.
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 10:34 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Office announcement:

QUOTE
Smokies Backcountry Camping Fee Approved



    GATLINBURG  -Great Smoky Mountains Superintendent Dale A. Ditmanson

has announced that the Park’s proposal to begin collecting for the use of

the Park’s backcountry campsites and shelters has been approved by the

National Park Service. This approval clears the way for the Park to move

forward with developing an on line system to collect fees beginning in 2013

for reserving and use of the Park’s backcountry by overnight hikers and

equestrians.

    The Park developed the plan in order to improve its trip-planning and

reservation services to users and to expand its backcountry Ranger presence

to better protect park resources through enforcement of food-storage and

other regulations and  improved visitor education regarding Leave-No-Trace

principles.

    The proposal was open for public comment last summer and some 230

written comments and two petitions were received during the comment period.

According to Ditmanson, the public comments provided a great deal of

constructive input on the concerns Park backcountry users had about the fee

plan. “Many commenters were under the misconception that the Smokies is

legally prohibited from charging user fees.  The Park is prohibited from

charging a toll or license fee from motorists crossing Park roads, by

language in a 1951 deed under which the ownership of some park roads was

transferred from the State of Tennessee to the National Park Service.  But,

we have long been authorized to collect user fees for specific activities

such as front country camping, weddings, and commercial filming.”

                                (over)


Smokies Backcountry Fee Proposal – page 2



    “There was also a significant amount of concern about our initial

plan to utilize the same computerized federal reservation system,

www.recreation.gov  that virtually all national parks use to reserve

drive-in sites in front country campgrounds. We acknowledge that some of

the policies, such as the lead time for making reservations and

cancellations, are not a good fit for more spontaneous backcountry users.

We will not use that system unless we are convinced that it can provide the

level of service we want to offer, and are exploring the alternative of

developing a stand-alone software program tailored specifically to the

Smokies. The system developed will also need to be practicable for

Appalachian Trail thru hikers whose itineraries evolve from day-to-day.”

    “Concern was also raised about the range of fee amounts that were

under consideration and that the resulting revenues may be diverted to

other programs. We have decided to focus our plans around the lowest and

simplest of the fees under study: $4 per night per person. Most

importantly, 100% of the revenue from this program will be invested in

improving back-country services through extended hours of the back-country

office, trip-planning assistance, on-line reservations, and protection of

park resources through increased ranger staff. ”

    Now that the proposal has been approved, Park managers plan to

provide periodic updates as plans for the reservation system evolve.


About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service

employees care for America’s 395 national parks and work with communities

across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home

recreational opportunities. Learn more at www.nps.gov.

(See attached file: Backcountry Camping Fee 2nd release March 7 2012
FINAL.docx)


Bob Miller
Management Assistant
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
(865) 436-1207
FAX  436-1204
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 10:56 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I think this fee is too high. I'm all for a fee but I would of rather seen the $10 per reservation $5 per person!
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 11:22 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Oh well.  No sense in belly-aching about this anymore.  Whats done is done.
I'm still terribly worried about the ramifications of this decision when it comes to the condition of the surrounding national forests, but I'll just have to work with the cards we've been dealt.

Happy trails everyone.
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 1:06 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

i hope their mention of concerns regarding Recreation.gov aren't just paying lip-service. any system with which i can't wake up Saturday morning and decide to drive to the Smokies for an overnighter is a sucky one. or any system where i'm out the money if i decide to change my plans -- clearly not an improvement of services.

so, they didn't say what they're doing about the thru-hikers... are they charging them?


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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 1:58 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(ashepabst @ Mar. 07 2012, 12:06 pm)
QUOTE
any system with which i can't wake up Saturday morning and decide to drive to the Smokies for an overnighter is a sucky one. or any system where i'm out the money if i decide to change my plans -- clearly not an improvement of services.

Amen to that. Many a times I have had to change course on my trip for safety reason’s such as high water on Gunter fork, and on many occasion I also have just thrown my pack in my truck and headed to the smokies on the spur of the moment. No problem with paying , but, the more that they inconvenience those that truly love the smokies the more we are deprived of them.

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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 2:32 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Glad to see they are going to charge horses too.  I have no problem with the fees.  Just not sure about the reservation aspect.  How that will work.  I mean when I go down to my house, I am never really sure what day we are heading out till we decide.  Might be the night before,  Weather, gear, knees etc...all factors.

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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 3:23 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(bad knees @ Mar. 07 2012, 1:32 pm)
QUOTE
 I mean when I go down to my house,

I just love the deep creek community........
you're  so very lucky..


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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 3:46 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I fought the good fight.  My final word on the subject?

BOHICA


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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 5:36 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Face it, this has been a political issue with folks thinking as individuals instead of as a nation. I remember when ALL national parks were free.  But politics aside...

A $4/person fee seems very reasonable to me.  Reservations are an issue but I like being able to reserve on-line.  It is a pain in the ass when I try to make a reservation and I can't get through to the ranger.  I'd rather see the rangers on the trail (which is, at this time, a rare occasion indeed) or answering questions about current conditions then sitting in the office taking reservations. I have had 100% positive experiences with reserveamerica for car camping (which links to the .gov site) and have found it frustrating that I can't use the same for my backcountry trips.
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 7:05 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(chief1 @ Mar. 07 2012, 3:23 pm)
QUOTE

(bad knees @ Mar. 07 2012, 1:32 pm)
QUOTE
 I mean when I go down to my house,

I just love the deep creek community........
you're  so very lucky..

Yeah it's my happy place.  Going down next month for a couple weeks.  See what my old legs have in em.  Throw some fly's and catch some fish.  Can't wait.

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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 8:29 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(mommasgonehikin @ Mar. 07 2012, 5:36 pm)
QUOTE
Face it, this has been a political issue with folks thinking as individuals instead of as a nation. I remember when ALL national parks were free.  But politics aside...

A $4/person fee seems very reasonable to me.  Reservations are an issue but I like being able to reserve on-line.  It is a pain in the ass when I try to make a reservation and I can't get through to the ranger.  I'd rather see the rangers on the trail (which is, at this time, a rare occasion indeed) or answering questions about current conditions then sitting in the office taking reservations. I have had 100% positive experiences with reserveamerica for car camping (which links to the .gov site) and have found it frustrating that I can't use the same for my backcountry trips.

FYI, the folks in the current reservation office are not rangers. 90% of the time they are volunteers. Two of them got awards for the 1000s of hours they have given at the banquet last week.  I'm pretty sure there is only one full-time employee in the backcounty office.

I disagree with the tax for a variety of reasons but I can understand why the online reservations would be beneficial to folks planning a trip, especially if coming from your house :)  I like the reservation.gov site for frontcountry sites but their fees and policies make it a poor fit for the typical Smokies backpacker.

One thing I find interesting about this press release. At the public input meeting we were told it was cost prohibitive to develop an in-house application and the only option on the table was recreation.gov  This was in the same 10 minutes where we were told all the money would go to 2 part-time rangers and 3 clerical staff for the backcountry office. We saw how long the first held true . . .
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 9:00 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I said a great deal about this when we argued about it last year...I won't re-hash all that but will say that I hike with my wife and 4 kids.  That's $24 per night meaning either $48 or $72 depending on a 2 or 3 night hike.  It's cheaper for us to stay in the front country campgrounds...go figure that.

I drive right over the AT...twice...and pass through some amazing North Georgia and W NC mountains to get to the Smokies.  In most recent years, we have gone once a month or at least every other month.  I can promise you that my trips to GSMNP will be cut way back come next year.  We were trying to do all the trails in the park but doubtful that we will do so before this kicks in.

Truly a bad decison on the Park's behalf.  Interesting also that the public comments were so completely disregarded.
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 9:01 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(pastywhite @ Mar. 07 2012, 8:29 pm)
QUOTE
At the public input meeting we were told it was cost prohibitive to develop an in-house application and the only option on the table was recreation.gov  

The reason they backpedaled is because of the "significant amount of concern".  As I imagine it, the few people this negatively affected bitterly screamed and yelled and protested (maybe shouting about freedom and oppressive government and that sort of thing) until the poor officials who were just trying to help the overcrowded and under managed GSM backcountry decided to assuage the situation by proposing to write their own reservation system.

Writing yet another custom reservation system is a horrible, expensive idea that is also known as"government waste" to politicians trying to balance the budget.

In South Dakota, they have an online reservation system similar to recreation.gov.  The difference is that you can call an 800 number the day you want to go, and if there's an opening you can book it right over the phone.  I actually made a reservation for a site while standing on that site last summer.

The point is, don't get down on them for trying to balance all park users to the best of their abilities.


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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 07 2012, 11:58 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(null @ Mar. 07 2012, 9:01 pm)
QUOTE

(pastywhite @ Mar. 07 2012, 8:29 pm)
QUOTE
At the public input meeting we were told it was cost prohibitive to develop an in-house application and the only option on the table was recreation.gov  

 As I imagine it, the few people this negatively affected bitterly screamed and yelled and protested (maybe shouting about freedom and oppressive government and that sort of thing) until the poor officials who were just trying to help the overcrowded and under managed GSM backcountry decided to assuage the situation by proposing to write their own reservation system.

I don't have to image it - I was there at the meeting. There was no screaming or yelling. There was honest discussion between the public and the officials. My point was, we were told one thing and it turns out to be false, how can we also believe the money will go where they say? All it will take is an "excuse" and away it goes. Also the "few people who were negatively affected" turns out to be 19 out 20 people who cared enough one way or the other to fill out a comment form.  This does not include the 100s of signatures on the 2 petitions plus the unanimous vote of the Swain County commission opposing this tax. When everything is considered, around 3-4% of the people who voiced an opinion (officially) supported this tax.

One reason people were opposed to the recreation.gov site is the extra frees. For this example we will assume $4 per person per night. Me, my friend, his son, and my 2 kids went to a shelter for 2 nights last year. Under the recreation.gov system I would have to pay a $10 free to the website then pay $20 each for 2 nights ($50 with agent fee). If we had decided to move it to another shelter a week before our trip it would have cost me another $10 to change the reservation. You cannot make or change reservations within 48hours of arrival ( this is major problem due roads and campsites being closed regularly.

What is this tax supposed to pay for? 2 seasonal rangers and 3 full time clerical stuff for the backcountry office. Unless they also move the backcountry office these paid positions will replace the positions currently filled by volunteers. There physically is no more room for more people in that office. If they extend the "live" answer time to 24 hours from the 6-8 now the crowding wouldn't be an issue but who is going to call the office at 2am to talk about trip planning?The two seasonal guys will end up doing the same thing the current backcountry rangers are doing - drug busts, ginseng busts, and poacher arrests.Lets just say Supt Ditmanson was 100% honest and the 2 guys are actually dedicated fully to the backcountry camping experience.  They are bound by federal labor laws. Granting them a "non work related sleep period" of 8 hours it would leave enough time for 2 full days, 2 nights, and a short trip back to the car - per week. Basically they would be doing what call "a weekender" then their 40 hours is up and they are off the clock for 5-6 days. There are 550,000 acres of Smokies, what are 2 (seasonal) guys doing weekends going to do? Normally the seasonal folks work April-October so 5 months without patrol at all. If they try really hard the could visit each campsite once per season and based on out known statistics from below the would check a permit on 1-2 people per night.

As for "needing" this due to overcrowding - that is just not true.   Backcountry usage has been dropping since the mid 1990s. The last year the NPS released numbers was 2010 when they reported 79,480 camper nights (they also admit this number is inflated but they don't know by how much).  This averages out to around 1.8 campers per night at a site. Other than the shelters and a few, specific campsites it is common to be the only one there even in the Summer. I spend about 25 nights per year in the backcountry and find that I am the only one there about 1/2 the time. The only time I have seen the campsites really full were during specific events - like azalea blooms at Gregory Bald.

There is nothing balanced about this. They are charging a fee to a very specific group of users and not to others. Why should backpackers pay for the staff needed to "police" the day hikers? The number one complaint from hikers is dogs on trails. This is the kind of stuff they should be policing already not implementing a tax on a group of people who, as a whole, don't take dogs into the backcountry. Since the park does not provide "number of people" as a metric for their reports, we can only work with the number of camper nights. I am going to assume that most folks will spend 2 nights on a trip. That is probably off a little.  That gives us 39740 backpackers in 2010. There were 9.4 million visitors in the same year. That works out to .005% of the visitors using the backcountry to sleep and thus paying the tax.

Also, this would put the Smokies as the only large visitation park to FORCE a fee for backpacking. All the others allow free permits and camping for walk-ins

1) Glacier NP. 700+ miles of trails. Reservation fee: None. Permit fee: None
2) Yellowstone NP. 1100 miles of trails Reservation fee: $20 for reservations 48 hours or more in advance. Walk-in reservations (within 48 hours of trip start) are FREE. Permit fee: None.
C) Yosemite NP. 750 miles of trails. Reservation fee: $5 plus $5/person for advance reservations. No charge for changes. Walk-in reservations: Free (for trips beginning up to one day prior to the wilderness (backcountry) trip). Permit fee: None.
D) Shenandoah NP. 500+ miles of trails. Reservations not required. Permit fee: None


The best argument for this tax is "we want to feel like we are doing something for the backcountry". PFFFFFT Doing stuff based on feelings gets us a halfassed solution. The facts here are the backcountry is not crowded except from some very specific places. They could survey the trail maintenance crews and get that information in just a few minutes. You could use your existing staff to manage these sites without the need to tax everyone in the rest of the park. The Park Service already has backcountry rangers but the supervisors have them doing other stuff. Let these guys do the jobs they signed up for and the few trouble sites will clean up quickly.
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 08 2012, 1:17 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Well said Pasty. The cost is prohibitive for family trips. It makes absolutely no sense that it would cost four people more to camp at a backcountry site than at Cosby CG. GSMNP got quite a chunk of cash in the stimulus that was spent on front country stuff. There was no price increase for sites at Cosby CG after all of the work done there.
There also should be some way to self-register for the current non-reserve sites. I understand that people that live far away might want secure reservations, but backpacking can be fluid. I've had to change plans. I've had to stay at sites that I didn't have a permit for.
They are charging those with the least impact a higher fee. A trailhead parking fee would be more profitable at a dollar a day.
Do they charge anything for the picnic areas?
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PostIcon Posted on: Mar. 08 2012, 1:56 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Well, that'll keep the riffraff out of the park.

Won't they ever learn?  You charge more for activities you want to discourage.


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I'm taking my business and dollars to Virginia.
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It appears that the fight against this fee is not over yet.  Very interesting article in the Metro Pulse.  nullMetro Pulse
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 15 2012, 6:26 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I'm headed to the Smokies on Monday.  If they impose a fee I doubt I'll go again......as that's really what they want isn't it?

Needless to say, I'm disappointed and hopefully come November (Jaunary 20th) a new administration will make changes to the NPS.


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(gunslinger @ Sep. 15 2012, 6:26 pm)
QUOTE
Needless to say, I'm disappointed and hopefully come November (Jaunary 20th) a new administration will make changes to the NPS.

So you think a Republican who lives off his daddy's money is more likely let you freeload on public property?

There are plenty of free backcountry sites outside the park for miles around. If you don't want to help pay to maintain the park, there are plenty of other options.
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(HighGravity @ Sep. 15 2012, 7:24 pm)
QUOTE

(gunslinger @ Sep. 15 2012, 6:26 pm)
QUOTE
Needless to say, I'm disappointed and hopefully come November (Jaunary 20th) a new administration will make changes to the NPS.

So you think a Republican who lives off his daddy's money is more likely let you freeload on public property?

There are plenty of free backcountry sites outside the park for miles around. If you don't want to help pay to maintain the park, there are plenty of other options.

Yes there is and that's exactly what I'll do.

Freeload on public property?  You mean like the Occupy folks?


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I mean like the conservatives are accustomed to doing. Like the ones who destroy public land by having their goddamn horses defecate all over the place.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 16 2012, 8:06 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

The part that concerns me (if it's true) is not having the flexibility to change sites/plans.  

The online system would require reservations three days in advance at every campsite. No longer could you shift plans to avoid an approaching storm or adjust your route to aim for peak fall colors or spring wildflowers. If a treefall or bear activity forced closure of a trail or campsite, you would have to either head home or cross your fingers on not encountering a ranger.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 16 2012, 9:09 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Fees are imposed in plenty of places, and there is no ability to change sites.  It's a way to manage a very popular place with limited resources.  I don't see a problem with it.

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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 16 2012, 11:11 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE


(CajunHiker @ Sep. 16 2012, 9:09 am)
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Fees are imposed in plenty of places, and there is no ability to change sites.  It's a way to manage a very popular place with limited resources.  I don't see a problem with it.

Right now we can go to the all of sites and camp for free, most without a reservation. This is like deciding on Jan 1 all city parks are still free but if you want to walk your dog you have to make a non-refundable, non-changable $4 reservation. Everyone else can still use the park for free unless you have a dog. This is essential what the NPS is doing here. You can walk to any backcountry site for free, hell you can even spend all night in the park for free as long as you don't sleep there. If you want to sleep you have to pay. For the $4 fee you get the ability to make a reservation that is free today.

They are using misleading information to get support for this tax. One argument is they need more people in the backcounty office. Not really true. Sure there are times when it takes 2 calls to get through to the office but mostly they answer on the first call. There are plenty of people who would and do volunteer to do this. There are 3 guys who volunteer in there who get awards every year for the number of hours they give.  I have seen quite a few appeals for folks to volunteer in the Clingmans Dome visitor center but none for the backcountry office. It would take one email to staff that desk with all the room can hold.

Backcountry enforcement. Again, there only a small number of sites that actually need enforcement. Right now the backcountry officers do not go into the backcountry except for search and rescue unless something specific is reported (poaching, etc). This year sites 21 and 24 were the problem. Both of these are less than 3 miles from the trailhead. One officer could have taken care of the issues here with a a few trips per week.

The only tangible benefit for this tax will be the ability to make reservations online, and this is only a benefit for folks like you that live a good distance from here. The downside is that you will have to use it for sites that currently don't even need a reservation.

I can understand how this doesn't seem to be a big deal for folks who are used to paying for public parks but that is not the case here. Almost everything in this area is free for public use and the NPS specifically targeting such a small population for this tax is wrong.
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 16 2012, 11:51 am Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

This is most senseless bunch of whining I think I've ever seen. If I want to have a picnic at the state park down the road I have to pay two dollars per person to get in and you guys are whining about 4 bucks to camp at the most populated national park in the country? How much have you spent on your gear? You'll spend more money on the trail map alone. You'll spend more money on the gas driving to the trailhead.  And if it's really that big a deal, go somewhere outside the park boundaries.  There are thousands of options that won't cost you a dime and don't require reservations and many of those places are much better than what you'll find at GSMNP.

How many of you guys complaining about the fee volunteer your time building and maintaining trails?
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PostIcon Posted on: Sep. 16 2012, 12:22 pm Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE


(HighGravity @ Sep. 16 2012, 11:51 am)
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How many of you guys complaining about the fee volunteer your time building and maintaining trails?

I do volunteer. I do trail work, LNT programs, backcountry reporting and campsite cleanups - all in the Smokies.

The fee is wrong but at $4/night it is not going to break the bank. It's the way it is being pushed through and the way it is targeting a very small group of visitors that are the issue.

At your state park that charges $2/person, imagine it has always been free and they decide to start charging the $2 but for only the people who ride bicycles. In addition, the only way to bring your bikes it to make a reservation. Sure you can go ride anywhere else for free but if you come to this park it is $2 - everyone else who uses the park is still free. This is what they are doing here.

The NPS is not going to be "maintaining" anything with this fee. It is already being maintained. As some of the news articles have pointed out, federal laws limits what this tax can be applied to so it cannot be used for actual trail maintenance. They only thing they are going to do is fund an unneeded reservation system so you can reserve a site that doesn't need a reservation today. The reason they don't need reservations is because no one is there. Based on the NPS numbers, many sites have less than 1 night per week usage.  

Even the most optimistic estimate from the NPS says the tax will fund the reservation system, three positions in the backcountry office (that is already full from volunteers) and 2 backcounty enforcement officers (already funded from other sources). If they make less than expected the positions will be cut. They will not be doing any maintenance or support for anything in the backcountry from this tax.
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