County asked to make stand against backcountry fee
By Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
Blount County Commissioner Tab Burkhalter wants the commission to take a symbolic stand against the new backcountry reservation and permitting process in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Burkhalter is sponsoring a resolution condemning the change although he said it is not an attack on the park.
County Commission will meet at 7 p.m. today in Room 430 of the Blount County Courthouse.
The changes took effect on Feb. 13. The National Park Service approved the park’s proposal to begin collecting fees for use of the park’s backcountry campsites and shelters. The changes include a $4 per person, per night fee for backcountry camping.
The fee will be used to provide increased customer service for backcountry trip planning, reservations, permits and the backcountry experience.
Burkhalter said the resolution is meant to bring attention to what he considers inadequate notice given to local governments regarding public comment on the proposal.
“It’s just an official way to say we’re a community partner, we want to be considered in these things, and we believe we deserve the respect of being notified in person of what you are going to do.”
The public comment period should have been longer, there should have been more involvement with local officials, and there should have been more transparency, Burkhalter said. “What we hope to press upon the park service is a transparency in the process by which user fees are administered in the future, the procedure by which the park service goes through to pass and decide upon a service fee for anything in the Park.”
Notification by press release was not enough, he said. “... As one of the seven counties that adjoin the park, we should have received some sort of official notification, direct contact, to ask for us to submit some kind of an affirmation of what they are doing and a support of what they are doing.”
John Quillen, who maintains the http://southernforestwatch.org website, has led public opposition to the fee. The organization has threatened to file a lawsuit against imposition of the fee.Park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said the Park is aware of Burkhalter’s proposal. “At the same time, we feel confident ... (that) we’ve implemented a backcountry program that greatly improves the service to our backcountry users,” she said.