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Great Smoky Mountains Superintendent Ditmanson Retires

Superintendent Ditmanson, who has been the primary director of the GSMNP programs and policy since 2004, has announced his retirement. 

He was the driving force behind the extremely controversial backcountry camping fee levied against backpackers and through hikers that was instituted last year. 

I look forward to seeing how this change in the guard plays out, who replaces him, and how it effects the various policy issues. I'm also very interested in hear the thoughts and speculations of my fellow backpackers on it all.

Gonzan I think you need to talk about the contravesy that he created. I know what he did but others might not be informed about the Whole situation..

I'll attempt to make a long story short: The founding of the park was accomplished in large part by donations of land under the stipulated, clearly defined, and irrevocable terms that no access fees would ever be charged to enter or pass through the park. 

It was ruled some years ago that use fees could be charged for "Developed Amenities," such as front country campgrounds, bathhouses, structures, etc., which virtually no one disputes as reasonable or in violation of the founding terms. Ditmanson proposed a fee for backcountry camping permits, more regulation, and a restrictive reservation system, all of which would effect all remote camping locations whether developed or not. The reason given was a need for more ranger patrols, upkeep of camping locations, and reservation system costs, even though virtually all trail and camp work is done by volunteers.

The proposed fee was apposed by most backpackers and thruhikers, as it places a large and unprecedented financial burden on the group that uses little to no developed amenities, has the least impact on the park, and that is most active in conservation and preservation activities.  An open call for feedback and comments was made, resulting in a landslide of opposition. Less than 5% of all comments received were neutral or supportive. Many alternatives were proposed, all of which were summarily rejected. The foremost alternate option was to instate a negligible fee, perhaps $1 or less, for parking at front country developed amenities. With literally millions of people visiting front country areas each year, that option alone would generate millions more in revenue than the backcountry fee. It would also place it on the group who has the largest use impact on the park. 

    Meanwhile, the park received many millions of dollars in Stimulus funds, on top of the normal 20+ million in annual budget, which was allowed to be used for repairs, upkeep, staff, and developments. Even though the fee was purportedly to cover "needed" backcountry site upkeep and rangers, not one cent of the stimulus was used for those things, which further called into question the real purpose of the regulations and fee. Furthermore, when private groups offered volunteer workers and fundraising to cover the supposed need, those offers were also rejected. 

All of these factors and many not mentioned here have solidified a frustration and alienation amongst the groups and outdoor enthusiasts who are most active and meaningful to the purpose, foundation, and future of our National Parks. 


January 18, 2021
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