Newton Bald  9/30/12


Golden Ferns of Fall line the Thomas Divide trail for me as I begin my walk 5 miles down to Newton.  The colors are changing at high elevations.  Magic time is upon the Southern Highlands.

A bit of rain on the walk served to soften the trail and we were treated to a beautiful night with a perfectly full moon.

Chestnut trees line Thomas Divide and the former bald.  You may see some that are up to 20 feet tall before they succumb to the force of blight.  It will be interesting to see how they have rebounded in another decade.  How incredibly resilient are the flora and fauna of God's planet.

And whom do I find in camp but John the Red and Frank Whitehead, fellow Fee fighter and Southern Forest Watch Board member.  Frank will forever be revered not just for his prominent role in this fight against the fee but for brokering the meeting between the SFW and Ditmanson and his cabal.  During that infamous meeting at which we were seated round the taxpayer table at Park Headquarters, Ditmanson sat while feigning interest in our concerns.  Frank, who was next to me and I was seated next to Ditmanson said,  "Dale, You haven't been listening to us and you're not listening to us right now!"   It was at that point Dale started with his crocodile tears and the little rehearsed routine where Fitzgerald came to his bosses defense, saying "Dale didn't have to have this meeting with you guys, you have called him ugly names on the internet!"    Seriously.

Then there was the Camp Ninja, Sally Dumplin, freshly returned from his hiking hiatus at the beach.

Jerky and Slapnuts completed a big loop of up to sixteen miles of new ink.  Slap may just finish before the end of the year.  He's getting them in while they are still free.  Mike has a lot of money, so he isn't as concerned.  He just wants to finish before they start charging for the air we breathe in the park as well.

Frank brought his friend, Don.  Behind Don is Mandy who accompanied Luke Loveday.  Someone, and it may have been Will Howe, noticed that Don resembled Rick Steves from the PBS travel show.  What do you think?

Rick Steves.  How about that?

Here is slapnuts to the right, Jenny in the Middle and Trail Bailer on the left.  You see,  Dr. Trail Bailer got his nickname because he left us on the AT as a result of developing  pizza eyes and chafing.  We rugged Highlanders were left to complete the trek as planned and spend the requisite nights out in the backcountry eschewing modern conveniences like pizza and talcum poweder.   Dr. Trail Bailer, true to his name, is bailing on Hangover and his buddy Slappy, leaving him to undergo the rituals alone.    Don't worry Slappy, we may have another candidate who is up to the rigors.

Thinking of all that Hangover stuff made Slappy so tired he "retired" to his tent, almost.......    The full moon shown brightly over the former bald.  A wonderful evening of festivities and great cooking ensued.

Next morning, I descended Mingus Mill trail.  The beauty of that pathway wasn't at all lost on this Highlander.  Within a half mile of leaving the others who descended  Newton Bald Trail, I came upon bears leaping out of trees.  They were gorging themselves on acorns.  I would say that I scared three of them but, in reality, three of them independently scared me.  You know the sound, coming around a corner when it sounds like someone has dropped a sack full of anvils from one hundred feet above the canopy.   By the third crashing I was camera ready.  Unfortunately, the bruin was not.  For over six miles in the Smokies backcountry, I was absolutely alone, except for the sounds of Harley Davidson motorcyles and bears.

This is the National Park Service's shooting range at the near bottom of Mingus Creek.  (Wonder how much taxpayer money we spend so they can  play with guns?)  My descent was a little more than 6 miles.  Actually about seven and a half when you count the road walking.  A very nice lady gave me a hitch to tow string.  Then I had to walk a mile up the river with my thumb out.  I noticed that there was such a surfeit of Lexus and Infinitis and big SUV Expedition types of vehicles that would pass me by.  It was a pair of young WNC college kids, Brandon and Coral who gave me the final hitch up to the Divide.   

The whole scenario of the shooting range and the passing, brand new SUV's reminded me of a meeting the Southern Forest Watch leadership had with Congressman Duncan over the summer regarding the Fees.  Duncan related that he was at a fru fru golfing event when he was approached by some hot shot wealthy dude.  Duncan claims that the wealthy dude leaned over to him and said, regarding the Smokies,  "You know, they will let anyone in there these days."

When you look at the Smokies, that guy was right.  From the cabins at Elkmont which denote wealth and privilege for which we taxpayers are funding the renovations for these former family summer homes, to the equestrian abuse of trails, to the clear cutting of overlooks to the introduction of elk to the allowing of a private resort to run four wheelers onto Cane Creek, throw in the donation of Smokies National Park Land to ex Governor Sundquist and the ultimate re routing of trails around his property, the Smokies is truly managed for those of wealth and privilege.   When WBIR threw their Friends of the Smokies telethon recently, the magnificent Bill Williams kept uttering, "The Smokies is Free, The Smokies is Free".  Then he escorted the ever so pompous assistant Superintendent out there to ask for more money from private citizens to give to the National Park.  And private citizens gave them the equivalent, in one night, of what Dale Ditmanson and Kevin Fitzgerald and Melissa Cobern's backcountry fee would generate in a year.  A little more than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  WBIR has refused to cover the lawsuit or fee controversy.  Consider leaving a comment for them on their most recent press release for the National Park Service here.  They take whatever Dale tells them as gospel.  Never mind that their former news director is president of the Friends of the Smokies.  Our goal is to become a "real" friends of the Smokies Group.  Not a feel good, cocktail sipping, drive thru the park crowd.

If you think that this fee thing is about just money, it's time you open your eyes.  They don't want backpackers in the backcountry.  This is about control and money.  When the fee was approved last March, they started charging for the fireflies in June.  The floodgates were open with the approval of fees for use of the Smokies and next it will be tubers, fly fisherman and yes, dayhikers.  Mark our words.  And those of you who say that you will go to the National Forests had better wake up.  I'll let you talk to my friend Kitty at the WS No Fee Coalition about all the dayhiking fees already in place there.   They will charge to drive the loop soon and put up a gate at Alum Cave Bluff trailhead.  You think they put a toilet there for no reason?   You think Ditmanson helped rebuild AT shelters for no reason?    Wake up folks, either you stand now or lay down permanently when your kids and their kids are totally forbidden from backpacking into the park.   It has to end now.  We are the rabble of which King George spoke.  We are the riff raff of which the cocktail sippers snidely bemuse.  We are common people who pay taxes for public land and pack out what we bring in along with the horse detritus and dayhiking candy wrappers.  There isn't a trip that we don't tote out some dayhiker or equestrian junk.  Yet they don't have to pay a thing.

Luke Loveday stepped up to the plate and made a significant donation to the Southern Forest Watch.  We will be a properly constituted non profit entity very soon.  Our lawsuit is being prepared and this past week other folks have signed on with their personal talents to bear.   There is no oversight mechanism for these bureaucrats.  Ditmanson makes $176,000 per year.  I don't know how much his junior Deputy Ranger Fitzgerald makes to come up with Fee ideas.  Did they get a bonus for generating revenue on our backs?  I suspect it didn't hurt their personal income a bit. If you are reading this and don't know what to do, then call someone.  Be it your representative, newspaper, local city councilmen.  Spread the word.  Don't be the person who is telling their grandchildren, "I remember when they used to let people camp in the backcountry."    

We had an absolutely glorious weekend in the backcountry.  I am fortunate to have a good group of friends that shares my passion for the park and Southern Highlands.  Walking down six miles of empty trail that dumped onto a highway of congestion and noise does nothing but further my resolve to fight this tax on backpackers and backpackers only to the death.  Our board at the SFW are patriots along with all fellow fee fighters.  Myers Morton has devoted immeasurable time along with Gregg Bostick, Rob Cameron, Jim Casada, Adam Beal and everyone on gotsmokies.  Remember the businesses that have supported us like River Sports, Little River Trading Company and Benjamin Moore Paint store way out in West Knoxville.  (that's Luke's enterprise)