The first issue is of particular interest to tailwater anglers in Tennessee. The Nashville District of the Corps of Engineers has decided to limit access below area dams. In other words, the great fishing you may have experienced below Center Hill, Old Hickory, and other Cumberland River system dams is soon to be something of the past.
See the nice bass below? Under the new regulations, I would not even be allowed to approach the spot where I caught it, much less actually fish there...
The Corps is planning on restricting access to areas that fishermen have been fishing for many years now. The excuse? Three fatalities in the past 3-4 years and a few other close calls have prompted the Corps to determine that the areas below the dams are too hazardous. Granted, the rough tailwaters are not always safe but that is where our RIGHTS to choose come in. No one makes those people go out on the tailwaters. Instead of cutting access, the Corps would do MUCH better to become more consistent with flows and cease any and all unplanned generation releases. Beyond that, people are making their OWN decisions to recreate below area tailwaters and no one including the Government should make that decision for us.
All of this discussion is ignoring the fact that, while definitely sad, there have been only 3 fatalities since 2009. If the Government is all that interested in saving lives, let's end overseas wars, fix our healthcare system, find more creative ways to keep drunk drivers off the roads, and in general address issues that are actually responsible for killing people regularly, not just once every year or two...and let's not even mention improving our everyday lives by fixing the economy. Oh wait, the Government likes the status quo...scratch all those great ideas.
The other issue that hits even closer to home for me is the implementation of fees for backcountry users in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Moving to Colorado has really opened my eyes in terms of seeing what allowing parks to charge fees will eventually do. Here, there are huge limitations on where I can and cannot enjoy the wilderness nearby. This next year will see even more limitations as Brainard Lake is now going to be managed by a private entity for profit (surprise!!! public lands managed for private profit!!!!). Once a Government agency starts charging fees, things invariably go downhill from there.
I understand that the Park Service is trying to come up with revenue and is feeling the pinch financially so please don't misunderstand me. However, having seen many other parks across the country jump into the "fees game," I know all to well where this leads. Large government organizations are never satisfied with the amount of money raised and once they get started, it will only be detrimental to the dedicated users who love and care for the public lands.
Having grown up in east Tennessee and learning to love the Park from an early age, I am perhaps most disgusted that the users who will bear the brunt of this new fee system are the local users who put in many days in the Park each year. These are also the people who care most for the land and normally pack out more than they pack in, participate in Park trail improvement projects, cleanup days, and many other service opportunities to better the beautiful mountains.
Let's do some basic math. Prior to the fees going into effect, I would sometimes choose to backpack over car camping because of the ability to enjoy camping in the Park without paying a fee for a front country site. At $20 a night for a front country site, just a short weekend trip becomes prohibitively expensive once I factor in gas money and any extra money spent with local businesses. On a teacher's salary (and most people are NOT making lots of money right now in this economy), I can only afford an occasional trip. However, prior to this year, I was able to backpack every weekend if I chose. Now that ability has been forcefully taken from me, against mine and the vast majority of other users wishes, with only a few commercial groups (wonder why they care? $$$) approving of the new fees. If I choose to take a family of 5, I'm now spending the exact same price for the experience of the GSM backcountry as for a front country campsite. In addition, the cost of the specialized gear required for a pleasant backpacking experience now means that neither myself or my family will be able to enjoy the great out of doors in the Smoky Mountains any longer except on rare occasions.
The reasons set forth by the NPS were myriad, but generally logically refuted by the backpacking public. The NPS chose to ignore the majority of public opinion and input into the process in favor of catering to a small minority. The "users" who were in favor of the new system were area businesses (NOC anyone?) who operate for profit on our PUBLIC lands and who realize that the new system will benefit their business financially.
Remember this great trip? This is one of our top posts of all time based on the number of people who read it. Guess what? Next trip we will have to pay and there will not be anything different in terms of my experience. Memories with my dad just got more expensive...
A new nonprofit has been started called the Southern Forest Watch. Began specially to combat the new GSMNP fee system, the organization is seeking funds to combat this issue in court. If you love the Smokies and want it to stay free as PROMISED when it was founded, donate to the Southern Forest Watch today.
Contact your Senators and Representatives also. The squeaky wheel gets the grease or at least sometimes when we factor the Government into the equation. If you are willing to sit down for a moment and email the appropriate people, contact the appropriate Senator here and your Representative here. Also, you can email the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent, Dale Ditmanson, here. If you care about either of the issues above, please take the time to let the powers that be know how you feel!!!