Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Microcosm of the Federal Spending/Taxation Issue – Fees for Camping in The Great Smoky Mountains

Why Can’t Government Services be Free?

[Editor's note:  The Dismal Political Economist lives near The Greak Smoky Mountains National Park and considers its creation, preservation and operation to be the Federal Government at its finest.  He has no problem paying taxes to support it and paying fees to use it.

Also, for some reason Google does not allow comments on this post, contrary to settings.  Here is a link to a comment.]

The great divide in the American economic environment over government is the issue of government spending and paying taxes. Every public opinion polls shows U. S. citizens care deeply about the deficit.  But  these same polls show no support for cutting specific government programs or for raising taxes.

The Federal Government At Its Finest
And Entry is Free!

An illustration of this contradiction at a very micro level is shown in a proposal of the Park Service to start charging fees for overnight camping in shelters in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The Park is the most visited of all of the National Parks, and one of the few  National Park type areas where there is no fee or charge to enter and explore.  Consequently the demands on the Park are huge and the funding for the Park a constant battle within the Department of the Interior.

To improve service for campers, the Park Service is considering a small fee for reservations and camp shelter usage, with the proceeds used to improve the reservation service and provide more ranger patrols in the Park.

“The country’s most visited national park has proposed moving all 101 backcountry campsites, including 86 campsites and 15 Appalachian Trail shelters, to an online reservation system, instituting a user fee for backcountry camping and hiring seasonal law enforcement rangers to better staff the backcountry.”

Now these are not Ritz Hotel prices here.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Anyone Think It is Not Worth $10 a Night?

and yet even though the fees would go to support the activities of the campers, there is a vocal outcry against imposing them. A passionate group of frequent backcountry campers circulated a petition opposed to the fees and

“The idea of any kind of user fee does not sit well with Jim Casada, a Bryson City native who now lives in Rock Hill, S.C., and also helped circulate the anti-user fee petition. . . .

‘These charges come at a terrible time economically,’ Casada said. ‘They will hit those who use the park the most the hardest. And there is no provision to waive fees for youth. Based on the proposed fees, a family of four on a weekend trip would wind up paying $50-$75 for two nights in the backcountry.’

Another Park Freeloader
Maybe Mr. Casada Wants Him to Pay for Mr. Casada's
Costs of Camping in the Park

Exactly what “youth” Mr. Casada is talking about is unclear, since this is not Disneyland, and no one younger than the late teens is likely to be camping alone in the Smokies.  As for the charge for a family of four having to pay all of $50.00 to $75.00, well check out the cost of a room at Motel 6 for a weekend (of course they do leave the light on for you and the rooms are generally free of bears.)

Making the Park even partially self supporting is important for its preservation.  If Conservatives take control of the Presidency and the Congress their philosophy of privatization may well mean the selling or leasing of Federal assets as a way to support tax cuts for the wealthy or to close the budget deficit without raising taxes.

Instead of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, under a Conservative government it is easy to envision “Walt Disney World Presents the Smokies” complete with $50.00 per car admission fee, the conversion of Cades Cove into the “Cabins of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a daily Cherokee Indian Dance Contest and the diversion of the Oconaluftee River into Mickey Mouse’s Log Plume Ride.  Fees for campers are a positive step in preventing this.

So while this is not a national issue and not an issue of major economic importance it is an issue that perfectly illustrates American attitudes.  Americans want “government” to provide for their comfort and entertainment, but consider the idea of paying for government to be outrageous and inappropriate. 

Readers will notice that Mr. Casada and the others who oppose fees to support their activities make no mention of why the rest of the nation’s taxpayers should pay for the recreational activities of Mr. Casada and his fellow campers.  Maybe that’s because they have no argument to make.

1 comment:

  1. tell you what
    you add up the cost of tax break on income for hedge fund guys, 4th homes, corp jets, etc and they come to 1% of the fees for the national park, I'll eat my hat

    the point is, the amt of money be stolen by the rich, thru their manipulation of the gov't, is so much larger, that why would you care about this ?
    other then the social contract aspects

    as to the 50 bucks, thats why people hate professors - for a lot of people, 50 bucks is a lot of money