Letter: With new user fee, watch for park to assess even more fees

Feb. 18, 2013 @ 12:54 AM



The national parks of the West and most other national parks were set aside from the public domain. They are the government’s gift to the people. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a $10 million gift from the people to the government. It is an unusual gift.

By private donations and by state and city appropriations, nearly $5 million was raised to buy land from the mountain farmers and the lumber companies. This sum was matched by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, a foundation created by John D. Rockerfeller as a memorial to his wife.

Deciding upon the Great Smokies as a site for a national park was one thing, but securing the land for that purpose was a different story. As the land selected was privately owned, it had to be privately bought, the titles cleared and the land deeded to the government.

The history of this park’s establishment is as interesting as the region itself. Its successful accomplishment represents bright dreams, hard work, many disappointments, some misunderstandings and not a few heartaches.

After the funds were raised and the land was purchased, it was presented to the federal government to be maintained as a national park, with the stipulation that since the people had bought the land, there was never to be an entrance fee for visits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In an attempt to bypass this park entrance fee, the Park Service has decided to charge “user fees” for various park activities. The first, which will go into effect soon, is a backcountry camping fee. This fee will be charged to anyone camping overnight in any campsite or trailshelter. This includes Appalachian Trail hikers who are traversing the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

A “user fee” for picnic areas will probably be next, then a fee to hike waterfalls and other points of interest such as Gregory Bald, Charlies Bunion, Thunderhead and Clingmans Dome. A user fee for driving the Cades Cove loop road and the road into Cataloochee could be forthcoming soon. The list can be almost endless.

The Park Service contends that they are not charging an entrance fee; they are charging a user fee. I see very little difference in an entrance fee and a user fee.

Two rangers will be assigned to enforce this “user fee.” How can two rangers cover 900 miles of trails and all the backcountry shelters and campsites?

Morgan Briggs

Pigeon Forge