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View Full Version : Proposal to CHARGE FEES for all Backcountry sites in GSMNP


JayB
07-29-2011, 11:50 AM
Backcountry Office & Permit System Restructuring Proposal
July 27, 2011
Introduction
Park management is considering a proposal to improve visitor services by restructuring the
park’s backcountry reservations and permitting processes as well as assisted backcountry
trip planning services. The purpose of this document is to brief park partners, cooperators
and stakeholder representatives and to solicit feedback on this proposal.
Background and Scope of Problem
• The park consistently receives complaints about the amount of time and effort it takes for
visitors to get a backcountry reservation and/or acquire backcountry planning
information. This is a reflection of insufficient staffing for the volume of customers, both
call-in and walk-in, requiring reservations and/or trip planning information.
• The park also frequently receives feedback from the public that they desire to see more
rangers in the backcountry to address problems such as dogs on trails, and permit and
camping violations. This includes overcrowding of backcountry campsites by nonpermitted
campers. A greater National Park Service presence is also desired in the
Backcountry Information Office to provide trip planning services.
• Non-reserved sites currently comprise over half the park’s backcountry campsite
inventory. Because they are non-reserved, capacities are frequently exceeded, which
results in food storage violations, increased wildlife encounters and the need to close
campsites to protect visitors and wildlife. When the park needs to close one of these sites,
staff must rely on closure signs at permit stations and at the sites themselves to notify
campers, but this is not a reliable method of notification. A reliable system of
notification is vitally important when closures are due to bears or other safety reasons.
Proposed Solution and Outcomes
1. Contract with Recreation.gov, an online and call-in reservation service, to which
customers will have 24/7 access and can print their backcountry permit prior to arriving
in the park. Recreation.gov is the official centralized reservation service used by all U.S.
Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service recreational areas offering camping
reservation services. These options will reduce the number of reservation calls to the
Backcountry Information Office and allow staff to spend more time assisting customers
with high-quality trip planning services, both walk-in and by phone. Although park
research suggests that 80% of reservations will likely be made online and almost 20% by
phone, there will also be an opportunity for customers to obtain reservations or permits
on a walk-in basis at the Backcountry Information Office and potentially at one or two
other select visitor contact stations in the park.
The reservation system will dramatically increase reservation/permit customer service and
ensure customers have greatly improved access to high-quality trip planning information,
both through personal contacts and improved on-line planning tools. Customers will be
able to make reservations and obtain permits at their convenience.
Page 2 of 2
2. Create a cost recovery fee structure for reservations that will generate revenue to cover
both the contractor cost of the reservation system and support an increased National Park
Service presence in the Backcountry Information Office and in the park’s backcountry.
Although Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been offering free backcountry
permits for years, the park is in the minority when compared to other parks with
comparable backcountry operations. Most other parks with similar backcountry
operations charge between $10 and $30 per reservation, and many have additional per
person or per person, per night fees. Parks use these fees in support of their backcountry
operations programs and, in turn, offer improved services to the public. Similarly,
beyond providing access to a more convenient reservation/permitting service, Great
Smoky Mountains National Park proposes using these fees to increase ranger presence in
the backcountry and improve customer access to trip planning services through the
Backcountry Information Office.
Alternative fee structures that would allow the park to meet these objectives include:
o $10 per reservation + $5 per person; or,
o $10 per reservation + $2.25 per person per night; or,
o $4 per person per night.
3. Require reservations for all backcountry sites. The reservation system will have the
capability of notifying reservations holders of site closures, safety issues, or emergency
information via phone calls, text messages or emails.
The park will be aware of, and have contact information for, users at each site. The park
will be able to reliably contact each reservation holder with timely information about
closures, safety issues and other important backcountry information.
By placing all sites on the reservation system and having an increased ranger presence in
the backcountry, negative impacts to both the natural environment and to the visitor
experience from overcrowding and other conflicts will be reduced.
Conclusion
Implementation of this proposal will result in an improvement to customer service that
will make obtaining backcountry reservations quick, easy and convenient for customers,
as well as increase their access to Backcountry Information Office personnel for trip
planning. Additional rangers in the park’s backcountry will improve visitor experience
by actively addressing commonly reported backcountry camper concerns.
Additional Information & Comments
• Written comments regarding this proposal may be addressed to the Park Superintendent
by August 26th. Comments may be submitted via email to grsmcomments@nps.gov (grsmcomments@nps.gov) or
by mail to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Road,
Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738.
• The park will also hold two informational open houses regarding this proposal to which
partners, cooperators, stakeholder representatives and the general public are invited.
o Tuesday, August 16: Old Oconoluftee Visitor Center 5:30 – 7:30 pm.
o Thursday, August 18: Headquarters Lobby 5:30 – 7:30 pm

Mac
07-29-2011, 12:03 PM
Interesting,

be careful what you ask for, :redface:

Rog 1
07-29-2011, 12:11 PM
Sometimes I get frustrated by the lack of delineation of duties...when is a ranger not a ranger?....last month I was camping in Elkmont and while waiting to make a call at the pay phones I went down to look at the water from the bridge....just upstream there was some guy baiting fishing the pools there...walked over to the office and reported this and this started a conversation among the rangers as to whether they should go down and confront the guy or call in for an "enforcement" ranger....while they were discussing this the guy quit fishing and drove off....

Streamhound
07-29-2011, 12:53 PM
Hey Rog 1
I know that when my wife worked for the NPS she had no law enforcement duties and in the situation you described would not have been useful. On the other hand the law enforcement officers would have been lost guiding tours in Mammoth Cave. There are different divisions and each has only responsibility.

fearnofishbob
07-29-2011, 01:54 PM
I've been wondering when this would come about. I see no problem with it I have to pay each time I camp at Elkmont, Smokemont etc. Have at it !!

Rog 1
07-29-2011, 03:14 PM
I have no problem paying a fee ..... might even cut down on some of the litter...but...someone is going to have to make the rounds to check on the permits and enforce the rules

ChemEAngler
07-29-2011, 04:00 PM
I actually wish they would go one step further and just charge an admission fee to the park. I realize it is in the park charter that they are not allowed to do so, but I see so many people who show no respect for this great resource that we have. And it isn't just the tourists who are guilty of this. I have seen many people with East TN tags on their vehicle throwing stuff out the windows while driving down the road.

GSMNP is the only national park I have been to that I wasn't required to pay an admission fee to enter. I would easily fork over $100/yr for a season pass, and think they should charge at least something for all the people driving through leaving their mess.

fearnofishbob
07-29-2011, 04:07 PM
Admisson to the Park make even more sense.......The revenue hopefully would be put to good use !

2weightfavorite
07-29-2011, 04:32 PM
The only issue with charging fees to enter the park would be the traffic. Im guessing it would be like other national parks, with a booth and a gate that you would drive through. We have 4 or 5 million more visitors than the next closest national park. I would hate to have to sit in a giant line evey time I take clients into the mountains. As far as the back country sites, Im suprised they haven't went to charging fees for their use before now. Of course what happens with through hikers say on the AT? Do they have to call ahead and pay as well?

flyman
07-29-2011, 09:40 PM
I'm not opposed to paying a nominal fee, but I don't want every site to go on the reservation system. I'll have to think about all the proposed changes before I comment in more detail.

Crockett
07-30-2011, 12:10 AM
There is a big difference between Elkmont and a backcountry site. People pay at Elkmont because there are bathroom facilities, concessions, and most of all you can just drive up and park and don't have to walk 5 miles up 2000 feet in elevation to pitch a tent on some roots somewhere. I am ok with a nominal fee too but it should be much less than they charge for something like a spot at Elkmont for sure. Although I have the feeling if this goes through without people seeming to care too much a nice big raise in the front country rates probably won't be too far behind.

duckypaddler
07-30-2011, 07:37 AM
Admisson to the Park make even more sense.......The revenue hopefully would be put to good use !

I love the fact that the park is free:biggrin: I am very thankful for the generations before me that worked hard to make this park happen.

While I am all for making all backcountry spots reservation only to cut down on over-use and crowding, and would not be opposed to a nominal fee, it would most likely be silly and counter-productive financial wise. For example at the Cheoah Whitewater releases the Forrest Service makes you buy a $3 wristband. On a good day you'll have a hundred paddlers, and they have at least 3 guys on overtime to enforce this which I know must cost far beyond the $300 they collect:frown:

I applaud the Park for trying to solve the problems in the backcountry, and are looking for a way to cut down on paperwork so that the limited backcountry staff can help others with trip planning. I just hope they can do it without charging an arm and a leg for backcountry. Maybe a solution would be a higher charge at the 10% of sites that cause all the problems, and leave the 90% of little used sites free. I hope I can make one of the meetings:smile:

pineman19
07-30-2011, 07:51 AM
Duckypaddler,

Good point on the "real cost" benefits that may apply depending on which plan they go with for the backcountry sites. Myself, I think ten dollars a person is too steep for a BC site. $4 seems a little low, especially if they are stepping up enforcement, etc. Someone in between ($6) would be a reasonable fee. Personally, while I know they need to have more of a presence at the highly utilized sites, I don't really need some gung-ho rangers crawling up my butt while I am trying to get away from it all. It's bad enough to put up with their attitudes at Elkmont, etc. I have started going to the NC side more as a result, more laid back on that side of the mountains, and they don't look at you like you're a scoundrel for no good reason;).

Neal

NDuncan
08-01-2011, 10:43 AM
I have a couple of thoughts on this feel free to agree/disagree as you see fit:

1.) The park was created out of families homesteads to a great extent, and many of these families had been there for generations. Part of their compensation for giving up (whether by choice or force) the lands that had been part of their families heritage for generations is that the government would never charge a fee for access to these lands. That is a promise that must be kept. Think about what TVA did in Tellico Village... Took farms away from families who had been there for years, and then didn't use the land for what they claimed they would when they took by eminent domain, and they sold it developers. The Army corps engineers did the same thing in PA with a proposed dam that never got built - families uprooted and then the land turned over to developers. I know it is not exactly the same thing, but the government needs to be held accountable and held to their promises.

2.) They are promising two back country rangers with the increased revenue. How often does the government ask for a 'small fee' to offset they cost of some common good ... like schools, roads, etc and then the money doesn't end up going where they promised... Think wheel tax in Knox county.

3.) Where is the line? Next are we going to charge a fee to hike the trails? Day hikers and day users of the park contribute much more to the problem than back country campers. People throw trsh out of their car windows, so how about a fee for driving a car through the park. Horse use causes damage to trails that require work to regrade and fix to mitigate erosion, so we need a fee for taking a horse into the park. People that float down the river in tubes also leave trash and things behind, so there needs to a water use fee. How about a fee for using the park for commercial purposes - tubing companies, guided hikes, guided fishing and camping trips? These people make money off a free resource, maybe some time in the future the NPS will decide that they need to pay their fair share. No matter what fee they come up with, they will have have more things that they need money more and never enough money to do it, so I don't think that supposed benefits of this proposal come close to the cost - both financially and morally.


4.) There are enough responsibly minded people in the backcountry that why couldn't most of what they want to do be done on a volunteer basis? Who wouldn't volunteer to take some sort of training/orientation from a head ranger and get certified to do some sort of back country enforcement. How many time shave you gone out to back country site and seen it trashed? Did you clean it up? You weren't there to see the people trash it, and even with two rangers dedicated to 104 backcountry sites and shelters, if you are lucky, each site will get visited by a backcountry ranger what, once a month, if that. How much difference will that actually make? Why not give private, trained citizen volunteers the authority to check permits, take ID info, report infractions to a enforcement ranger who could write citations and mail them to offenders? The volunteers would provide a written account, photographs, etc. Or even if enforcement is not the push, how about "back country angels" people who photograph the sites they visit, report on trash, food, bear activity, or whatever is wrong or good about the site, and clean the site up as best they can and then have some sort of system in place where we can report our experiences directly to the park service (maybe a webpage or something) and have the reports posted online on the park's webpage to raise awareness.


I think that one important thing to consider, just throwing more money at a problem won't make it go away. It seems like a small fee, for people who don't regularly use back country, but to people that do, the cost of doing lots of trips will add up fast. And a number of those of us that use it frequently are the type of people who cherish the park and clean up the trash left behind by the reckless ones. If it becomes expensive to get away to the park, you may find more and more campsites that have bear problems, trash problems etc, because the people who have been leaving the place better than they found it are now spending their time in the back country of the national forest instead.

BlueRaiderFan
08-01-2011, 11:31 AM
We pay enough in taxes to take care of the park.

Knothead
08-01-2011, 02:16 PM
NDuncan was thinking what I was thinking. The GSMNP is not to charge a fee. However, how many stop at the donation boxes in Cades Cove and drop in a few bucks? Or donate to the Friends of the Smokies? I intend to do the latter as my family loves the GSMNP for its history, fishing, wildlife viewing, and the natural beauty. Just think what will happen if and when we face bidget cuts in the future.
Watch the news as it seems there is an end to the budget issue for now.

Rog 1
08-01-2011, 03:18 PM
If they put somebody to police the backcountry sites they are going to have to have enforcement authority....not someone like the campground volunteers. While there majority of people I have met in the 50+ years of camping and fishing in the Park are responsible, sensible people there have been some crazies that I believe a full uniformed ranger would have been needed to convince them they were in the wrong. I can remember being checked for creel limits and permits....both camping and fishing....years ago....but these rangers apparently were called down from the mountains to do traffic duty where the majority of the visitors are found. Since no state resources are spent in the park I don't see why a park fishing permit couldn't take the place of either a NC or Tn license and the proceeds be used to help in this area....

JayB
08-01-2011, 05:31 PM
I take my 3 boys (8,6 and 4 years old) out camping in the backcountry a pretty good bit(just got back from Pretty Hollow this weekend). So far 8 nights this year, with probably 4 more to go. Based on this proposal, I could be looking at $12 to as much as $30 per overnighter. With just what Ive done so far this year that could be as much as $240 in camping fees, and you can bet we wouldnt be able to go as much. Its hard to get out and do things with a group of kids. We dont go to the movies, or arcade, or amusement park, instead we go camping and hiking and fishing, salamander hunting, stargazing, and berry picking.

Maybe like a fishing license, they don't charge for kids 16 and under? I think we can all agree that it is harder and harder to get kids involved in the outdoors, and as we continue to lose kids interest in the outdoors, we are losing future adults interest in the outdoors (which means future revenue!). If we can keep the costs amenable to families and children then the fee burden will be less likely to push future generations out of the woods.

tnflyfisher
08-01-2011, 05:56 PM
It's bad enough to put up with their attitudes at Elkmont, etc.

+1

I will tell you what, they sure do like passing out fines for everything... you can even get one for looking at them the wrong way. :biggrin:

Just doing their jobs, I know...

Tight Lines,

BlueRaiderFan
08-01-2011, 06:42 PM
I take my 3 boys (8,6 and 4 years old) out camping in the backcountry a pretty good bit(just got back from Pretty Hollow this weekend). So far 8 nights this year, with probably 4 more to go. Based on this proposal, I could be looking at $12 to as much as $30 per overnighter. With just what Ive done so far this year that could be as much as $240 in camping fees, and you can bet we wouldnt be able to go as much. Its hard to get out and do things with a group of kids. We dont go to the movies, or arcade, or amusement park, instead we go camping and hiking and fishing, salamander hunting, stargazing, and berry picking.

Maybe like a fishing license, they don't charge for kids 16 and under? I think we can all agree that it is harder and harder to get kids involved in the outdoors, and as we continue to lose kids interest in the outdoors, we are losing future adults interest in the outdoors (which means future revenue!). If we can keep the costs amenable to families and children then the fee burden will be less likely to push future generations out of the woods.

I think that our national parks should all be free. We were the first nation in history to have national parks and they are the jewels in our crown. I hate to think of people not being able to enjoy them because of money.

benintenn
08-01-2011, 07:39 PM
Its free to enter, drive around the park, day hike, and swim.

Front camping is the park is not free. If I recall correctly, I paid $23/night to stay at Elkmont. Does that not go against what some of you are saying about how the park should be free. Maybe we should get rid of charging people to front country camp too.

Fishing isn't free because you have to buy a license. Lets get rid of that requirement too because everything in the park is supposed to be free.

muskrat
08-01-2011, 07:59 PM
When I began researching information for our trip to the smokies I was surprised that no fees were charged for backcountry camping. My widerness camping experiences come from many trips to the Boudary waters canoe area where as long as I've been going there,since '99, fees have been charged.avel anywhere within the wilderness during your stay. There is a $12 fee for reserving a permit and a user fee of $16/adult/trip. This past June we stopped at the Oconalufftee visitor center. While there I decided to ask why no fees were charged. They proceded to give rote answers about when the park was established no fees were to be charged yada yada yada......my response was that you did charge me 20 bucks a nite to stay in the campground ?!?.
I wanted to know who I could contact to suggest that a backcountry fee should be charged.
It was then she realized I wasn't the normal "touron" and we had a very nice conversation and I left with what could best be described as a "Tell us how we are doing form" so my opinions would make it to somebody who would actually read it.
My concern would be that fees collected would be sent away to wherever it is government fees get sent to and be distributed to wherever some washington know nothing decides it's best needed.

Teddyp
08-01-2011, 09:20 PM
I love that the park is free and I can agree with a nominal fee for back country sites. But I think it's a slippery slope and hope they don't start charging for entry. I couldn't even imagine being charged to go in and fish, I would be devastated as much as I fish the park. I just hope if they charge they use the fees as they say and don't start looking for other streams of revenue.

ChemEAngler
08-01-2011, 10:30 PM
My concern would be that fees collected would be sent away to wherever it is government fees get sent to and be distributed to wherever some washington know nothing decides it's best needed.

Therein lies the problem. People want the government to give, give, and give some more. In order for the government to give, they need people in place to determine what and how much to give. And yes, generally the people who determine this are clueless. So now, not only are they giving out money, but they are having to pay somebody to determine where the money goes. Double whammy. Even more money is gone out of the budget.

Humans are a selfish bunch in general. We don't like when we are told what to do, however when you ask somebody to give you something they pretty much reserve the right to tell you what to do with it. We all want more, and we all seem to think our cause is greater than the other guy's.

We can't expect more out of our government with the current situation that it is in. If anything money will be even tighter now than ever before, and some of the privileges that we have grown accustomed to will be under much more scrutiny than ever before. I called it a privilege because it is not technically our "right" to have free admission to parks, only our "freedom" to have access to our national parks.

Knothead
08-02-2011, 12:53 PM
It is my understanding that the Park is not allowed to charge an entry fee but isn't prohibited from charging other fees. Still, it is cheap entertainment. Remember, the GSMNP is the most visited NP in the country.
We are supposed to go to Dollywood this Saturday with some of the family. That is what I call a waste of money!