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.