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Thread: Proposal to CHARGE FEES for all Backcountry sites in GSMNP

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2010

    Default Proposal to CHARGE FEES for all Backcountry sites in GSMNP

    Backcountry Office & Permit System Restructuring Proposal
    July 27, 2011
    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, 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. 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.
    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 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

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Lexington, KY



    be careful what you ask for,

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Tallahassee, Florida


    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....

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2009


    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.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Rabbit Skin N.C.


    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 !!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Tallahassee, Florida


    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

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2006


    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.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Rabbit Skin N.C.


    Admisson to the Park make even more sense.......The revenue hopefully would be put to good use !

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2007


    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?

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Hillbilly Hollow, NC


    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.
    "Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it."
    Salvador Dali

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