Lawsuit challenges Smokies backcountry fee

Ms. Jewell has her first headache.

A group called the Southern Forest Watch has filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service for its introduction of a backcountry camping fee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A couple of years ago I wrote in defense of this fee.

I don’t feel the same anymore.

The state of Tennessee needs to get out of the way of the Park Service and allow an entrance fee. Considering how many vehicles enter that park from the Volunteer State’s testament to all things garish, Gatlinburg, the state itself should consider creating a fund to cover at least a portion of what would be collected if a fee was put in place.

The Smoky Mountains backcountry is occupied almost exclusively by locals. The vast majority of those who visit the system’s most traffic-rich park rarely venture more than 50 yards from their vehicle, unless it’s to get frozen yogurt or approach a mother bear and her cubs.

The majority of trail maintenance and upkeep is done through a supportive collection of advocacy groups and now their efforts are being rewarded with a $4/night fee. For folks who have been backpacking in this highly under-rated wilderness for nothing more than the time it took to complete a small form at the trailhead, it’s much more about the principle of the fee than its amount.

Still, with fees come logistics, reservations and without doubt, increases.

The bottom line is that its absurd to charge backpackers a fee when without an ounce of equivocation, the majority of park upkeep costs stem from having to accommodate a perpetual stream of food-stained mini-vans and ear-splitting Harley Davidson riders who think everyone else within a ten-mile radius wants to hear them coming.

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Angel’s Landing


So there’s this 1,200 foot sandstone fin erupting from the floor of the Virgin River and we can climb on it. Yes, it’s a highly-trafficked, half-paved tourist draw. It’s also a symbol of what makes everything about our national park system so great. It’s the spine of an epic rock beast hibernating face down that has had chains punched into its narrow, sloping icy steps so people can climb on it to gaze down a narrow, snaking valley. It’s just awesome, no matter how many times you’ve been up there.



An early morning hike up to Angel’s Landing in Zion found us face to feather with three California Condors. We heard the wind streaming through their feathers before we saw them. From just below the rim they floated up and past us, each making about two runs around before, with only a single pump of their massive wings, drifting back to the shaded cold of Refrigerator Canyon.