Backcountry camping fees coming soon in the Smokies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park plans to implement changes to its current backcountry reservation and permitting process in early 2013.

As reported last March, 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 money collected will fund the salaries of new backcountry rangers to help with backcountry trip planning, reservations, permits and the backcountry experience.

However, any plans could be derailed or delayed pending a potential lawsuit by park advocates. The organization Southern Forest Watch has warned the park that it, and many other outdoor enthusiasts, oppose the fees. The group said in a letter to the park’s superintendant in September that it would go so far as to take them to court over it.

Yet, the park claims the price will allow them to improve service to backpackers and law enforcement in the backcountry areas. The park listed some of its so-called improvements to the backcountry camping experience that would come along with the fee. In addition, park rangers assigned exclusively to the backcountry will attempt to increase enforcement for issues such as wildlife violations and food storage.

An online reservation and permit system will allow backcountry campers to make reservations and obtain permits 24/7. Reservations may be made at any time up to 30 days in advance. 

 “It is anticipated the online reservation and permit system will be available to the public  within the first few months of 2013,” said Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “We will provide notification of a specific implementation date later this year.” or 865.436.1297.

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