Smokies Backcountry: Pay To Camp?

Should the Great Smoky Mountain National Park charge backpackers for camping overnight in the park? According to an article published yesterday by National Parks Traveler, the answer is a resounding NO:


John Quillen, a Tennessean from Knoxville who fought to have the public comments on the fee proposal made public, says that by his calculation the comments were “almost 20 to 1 against the fee.”

Part of the concern was that the proposed fees, which range from a low of $4 per person per night to a high of a $10 registration fee plus $2.25 per night per person, could eclipse front-country campsite fees, which range from $14-$20 per night, depending on how many are in your group.


The Park obviously needs money to operate, and with no ability to collect money at the entrance (due to a 1936 Tennessee law), the Park doesn’t have these funds to generate the operating revenue that benefits the other major parks. So, maybe we should give the Smokies a break? Improved trail conditions and better management of the shelters and campsites would benefit us all, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most heavily traveled (and used) in the nation.

Yet as a frequent visitor to the park, I wonder if more user fees only encourage the Federal Government to take their money elsewhere – making it difficult to get the funding back to the Smokies when they really need it.

I expect that Park Superintendent Ditmanson would say no to that, but my prediction is that backpackers will eventually pay fees to camp overnight in the Smokies backcountry. I doubt it will be to the extent that backpackers pay user fees in the Whites (of New Hampshire), but I fully expect the day is coming. So enjoy the free camping while you have it. The Smokies backcountry is a great place – even at $4/night.


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