He's back at it!

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. In 2017, I hiked the Israel National Trail and the Golan Heights Trail. My next goal is to be the first person ever to hike the Baja Divide Trail.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in this endeavor.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Permits and Fees

Let me start off by saying that I love the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). I have visited several times and I'm always blown away by the natural beauty. I also know that it's one of the most heavily visited national parks; I read that over six million people come here each year. 

When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in  2011, the GSMNP was certainly one of the highlights but I also remember feeling like it was the most heavily regulated forest I had ever been to. Hikers were required to register - we had to fill out a form and submit one copy to the National Park Service and keep one copy in our possession. Hikers were only allowed to stay in the provided shelters unless the shelter was full and then they had to camp within one hundred feet of said shelter. There were National Park Rangers and Ridge Runners from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy everywhere, making sure hikers were following all the rules. 

I was fine with all of that. My thinking was that if that's what it takes to keep this place as beautiful as it is, then fine; I'll gladly do all that they ask. 

New for 2013, hikers had to pay for a special permit. All the old rules still applied but now you also had to pay $20 to hike through the park. 

This is the first time in the 78 year history of the AT that hikers have to pay to hike the trail. 

Now, if you told me that this money was going directly to help improve the trail, I'd be fine with that. 

Maybe to clear some of these blow-downs?

Or for new signs?

Nope. This money just goes into the giant federal coffers. It's a shameless money-grab and I find it abhorrent. 

Just to be clear: I can drive around the park all day and all night in my '72 Oldsmobile, chugging out thick blue smoke (bad head gasket), blaring the stereo and honking the horn. I can run up and down all the trails I want and poop in all the privies for free. But if I want to quietly walk through the woods, Leaving No Trace, I have to pay $20. Does that make sense to anyone reading this? Cars enter for free but hikers have to pay?

So I'm not paying it. I'm fundamentally against it and I'm not going to do it. I'm going to quietly and carefully hike through the park. I will Leave No Trace (which is an important philosophy to me) and I'll keep a low profile but I will not pay for a permit. I will take the risk and I will suffer the consequences (possible arrest and a fine of up to $3000) if I get caught. 

I'm equally disgusted that hikers, as a group, simply caved in to this injustice. They reflexively type in their credit card numbers because that's what the government told them to do. No one asked why? Or, maybe, what do we get for our $20?

I have asked the NPS, via email, what the $20 goes toward and (of course) have received no response. 

If you agree with me, please leave a comment below. Or, if you think that hikers should pay to walk through a national park, then please do the same. Either way, I'd like to hear from you. 

And to those of you who would say "Oh, but if you look at the website, it's actually a fee to camp, not to hike and you can pay $4 per night instead of $20 to thru-hike",  I say, "Tell it to the judge, punk!" *in the voice of Clint Eastwood dressed as a Park Ranger*. The picture above is the sign posted at both the North and South boundaries as of 12/18/15 and that's  the law we are expected to follow: $20 for a thru-hiker permit. 


kcwins said...

All that coming from a man who unnecessarily sprayed a black bear in Glacier.

Much of the outback should be accessible to all, but restrictions legitimately abound. Some of it is special breeding territory for endangered animals; other parts are biologically special. A few may need to be off limits entirely, while other parts can withstand transit hiking, and some can handle overnighting. I don't have the time, or the qualifications, to make all of those judgments about every place I go to, but I know of no agencies - state or federal - that have a higher degree of competence, usually matched by a goal of prudent balancing of interests, than the NPS, USFS, FWS, BLM and and similar state agencies. So if they say, I need a $20 permit for GSMNP (or anywhere else), I'm going to defer to them.

Those who disagree with this should look at what unrestricted "I'll camp anywhere I damn well please" use by people has caused in that park along the AT. Even trail-side camping is prohibited, with even tenting usually forbidden along the AT. Why? Because "one time only" tent areas become, after a surprisingly short period of time, clapped-out heavy use areas; take a look at the Smokies at either end outside the Park, and you'll see what I mean. And a lot of "one time only" trails become established, too, thanks to people (possibly including me which is why I am very reluctant to do it unless there's a damn good reason) who think, "No one will ever know I walked this stretch."

Those who don't respect park regulations or tell a care taker in late afternoon they are going to hike the 10 miles to Abol but really plan to stealth camp. that is both dishonest and disrespectful. The park has gone from 800ish thru hikers in a season in 1990 to over 2000 today. Pay the permit fee.

Love you man. It's ok if we agree to disagree.

Jeff McWilliams said...

When you hiked up he PCT, did you have to get a permit to pass on through Yosemite or SEKI?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm with kc, what we pay in fees is cheap for what we get

kcwins said...

Or RMNP, the Wind River Range, Yellowstone, Glacier, etc.....while on the CDT?

Christopher Hillier said...

It's true. I did illegally spray a bear in Montana.

Thank you for a well-worded and intelligent comment.

Christopher Hillier said...

I had to have FOUR permits to hike the PCT: a thru-hiker permit (free), a California campfire permit (free), a permit to climb Mt Whitney ($15) and a permit to cross into Canada on foot (free). The Mt Whitney permit was actually to leave the area through the 'Whitney Portal' which I ended up not doing.

I've had to fill out permits for the Shenandoah and Yosemite but they were free. I was glad to do it.

Glacier permits are EXPENSIVE but my friend Beaker paid for both of us.

Christopher Hillier said...

I appreciate you leaving a comment. Thank you!

Jeff Weiner said...

I believe your esteemed colleagues are missing the point. As you mentioned, day hikers, trail runners, picnic-ers, horseback riders, car drivers, and all others come into the park for free. Why single out thru-hikers to pay this $20 surcharge? Is it because the NPS believes there is some additional effort they have to put in to protect the park from the evil thru-hikers? At least the NPS can explain themselves. Not to mention, as US citizens, We The People own the land and We The People pay the salaries of overhead costs of all the NPS. I could see if they wanted to have non-citizens pay a fee for entering the park, no matter how, I could see that. Singling out thru-hikers is discrimination.

Jeff Weiner said...

I found this on the inter-webs:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park regulations require that you stay in a shelter. While other backpackers must make reservations to use backcountry shelters, thru-hikers are exempt. From Mar. 15 to June 15, four spaces at each A.T. shelter are reserved for thru-hikers. If the shelter is full, thru-hikers can tent close by. Only thru-hikers are allowed to tent next to shelters, so they are responsible for making room for those who have reservations in the shelters.

Long Distance/Thru-Hiker Permit: Hikers who meet the definition of an A.T. thru-hiker (those who begin and end their hike at least 50 miles outside the park and only travel on the A.T. in the park) are eligible for a thru-hiker permit of $20 (valid for 38 days from the date issued for an up to 8 day hike through the park).

So, apparently the benefit of the permit is the no need for reservations, ability to tent outside the shelter, and 4 reserved spots per shelter (that you are responsible for making room for people with reservations...makes no sense to me).

Also, if you notice, it says "eligible for a thru-hiker permit", not required, so you don't have to buy one, but I guess you would then need reservations to sleep in the shelters and cant tent outside.

Christopher Hillier said...

They single out thru-hikers because it's easy to pick on small groups: hunters, smokers, motorcyclists and, yes, thru-hikers. I'm sure everybody BUT thru-hikers thought a fee was a great idea!

Christopher Hillier said...

The right to stay in a shelter still boils down to 'who got their first". Just two nights ago, a shelter (not in the GSMNP) was packed with section hikers doing a 20 mile section. It was cold and raining. Think they would make room for me? Nope. Same thing happens in the Smokies when the shelters are full: no one wants to move.

I sleep better in my tent, anyways.