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Why a campground on the cheap is symptomatic of trouble on the Front Range

A story in last week’s RV Travel newsletter about half-a-dozen proposals to build RV campgrounds touched on several themes more or less common to all of them. All the proposed projects are large, calling for a minimum of 300 sites. All the proposed projects are being more or less strenuously resisted by local residents. And all but one are being pushed by deep-pocketed developers seeking to create resort-level facilities, with highly developed infrastructures, numerous amenities and a correspondingly pricey cost of admission.

The one exception? The Colorado Base Camp.

(click to enlarge)

With 373 sites dispersed over a 320-acre property that’s a mile long and a half-mile wide, the Larimer County facility would be a far cry from the resort-style campgrounds that shoehorn eight or ten sites into every acre.

Colorado Base Camp would be a campground on the cheap

But that’s not the only metric that puts the Colorado Base Camp on the opposite end of the campground spectrum. As proposed, this would be a campground on the cheap: gravel roads throughout a property buffeted by high winds, porta-johns rather than fixed bathhouses (so they can be “placed for easy access as needed”), and absolutely no amenities other than a community clubhouse, to be built in phase four of a five-phase development. The kind of campground, in other words, that not only won’t attract deep-pocketed RVers on vacation, but one that could readily become a long-term housing option for people on the edge—a point on which the developers, when asked if there would be a time limit for stays, have remained mum.

Little wonder, then, that the county’s planning commission has already received more than 1,300 pages of outraged complaints about the project—that’s individual letters and emails, not just signatures on a petition. Topping the list of concerns is the fact that the property—which the developers say will be equipped with propane firepits—is a largely treeless grassland in the windswept foothills of the Rockies, not unlike the nearby area that spawned the Marshall Fire a few weeks ago, consuming more than a thousand homes. As several letter writers observed, the property has a history of at least three attempts to graze livestock that failed for lack of water, so “where is the water going to come from to contain out-of-control fires?”

The human element is a concern for the Colorado Base Camp

But the human element is nearly as prominent a worry, and it’s noteworthy that some of those concerns are being voiced by locals with RVing experience. Tami Root, a former park ranger, believes “there is no doubt that this will attract at the very least transient individuals who are not vested in our rural neighborhood and at the worst trespassing, drugs and stealing. This was a consistent challenge for us”—at the park where she had worked.

Root’s observations were echoed by Kevin Blough, a local resident who wrote that he and his family have been avid campers for more than 20 years. “During this time, we have experienced fellow campers who are conscientious and leave the area as it was when they arrived,” he wrote. “However, more often than not, this is not the case. Because the campsite and surrounding areas are not their personal property, campers often let their trash blow around, allow their animals to wander, use areas other than designated restrooms to relieve themselves, stay up all night, etc.”

Colorado Rockies are under assault

Lest RVtravel.com’s readers think these are overblown complaints symptomatic of NIMBYism, a wide-angle lens reveals that the Colorado Rockies overall are under assault from pandemic-fleeing campers and seasonal workers living outdoors in a housing crisis. Last May the U.S. Forest Service suspended dispersed camping for up to five years in five areas in the nearby Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest because of abuse. Boondocking campers had “created thousands of new campsites as they pulled off roads and damaged resources, trampling vegetation and compacting soils with tents, campers and vehicles,” the Forest Service said in announcing the closures. “Visitors built hundreds of new rock campfire rings and negatively impacted municipal water supplies with human waste and trash.” All five of the closed areas are along creeks that feed local water systems.

Indeed, local water issues along portions of the Front Range are problematic enough that the town of Severance this week issued a moratorium on new water taps. Although town officials say the problem is not supply but delivery, with the water district unable to build enough infrastructure to meet demand, the moratorium is indicative of the overall fragile balance between the availability of potable water and booming residential and recreational demand.

Increasing problems facing the area

And it’s not just fire rings and feces that are the problem. Growing numbers of all-terrain vehicles have been ripping up the slopes. More rootless and borderline transients are camping out for months at a time, sometimes with violent consequences. As Nederland town marshal Larry Johns told the Colorado Sun last summer, his office investigates about one stabbing a year on Forest Service land around his town, as well as theft of items like catalytic converters. “It’s a statewide problem,” he conceded, “but it’s an issue up and down the Front Range for sure.”

Faced with such unrelenting pressure, the Forest Service and local municipalities have tried to put the brakes on boondocking by converting dispersed camping locations—some used for decades—into designated campsites that require reservations. But whether through campers’ ignorance or a sense of entitlement, the problem has only gotten worse. With only four law enforcement officers to patrol the 1.5-million-acre Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland, the outlook for the coming season is grim.

Neighbors aren’t happy about the proposed Colorado Base Camp

For the 200 homeowners in Berthoud Estates and Foothills Estates immediately abutting the prospective Colorado Base Camp, meanwhile, the thought of injecting their community with several hundred campers is simply a non-starter. As summarized by local resident Chuck Peabody, “One could guess that 1,000 people might end up living on the parcel, and given the fact that many drug addicts and homeless people have developed a trend toward buying cheap trailers to live in, one can only envision our area being subject to large amounts of traffic and increased levels of crime.”

A public hearing on the campground proposal won’t be held until after the developers host a community meeting to discuss local concerns—a meeting that has not yet been scheduled. It should be a doozy.

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park. The fascinating book, recently published, is available at many large bookstores and at Amazon.com.

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Bd2
4 months ago

re: Colorado Base Camp in Larimer County CO
Look at layout. On the bottom property line is an open space and homes full of people who moved into foothills area. It is nice and dark and quiet [less coyotes, etc]. I am one of those people….this abomination is at the end of my residential street. This site is on the side of a hill so noise & light pollution will be amplified like an arena into my area. Lastly,

Colorado just had the Marshall wild fire that started at the beginning of the foothills that became a wind driven firestorm that left 1k+ homes burned down. This proposed RV park, with fire pits, little water and high winds [mostly in spring] just west of me is the same geographical setup for another tragedy. It’s all about the money folks.

Duane R
4 months ago
Reply to  Bd2

Propane fire pits are not the same as a burning shed. No embers blow from propane pits. They would also be in the campsite, which would most likely be gravel, or bare dirt. Extremely little chance of a fire starting from the propane fires. However, I would be concerned about idiots smoking and flicking their ashes/butts into grassy areas, which certainly could start a raging fire.

CLeeNick
4 months ago

This article reeks of incompetent government bureaucrats sniveling about having to do their jobs. My wife and I live in close proximity to southern Colorado and thus utilize Colorado public lands over quite a wide area..sometimes we pull our travel trailer up there, sometimes we merely take an all day drive on various backroads and 4×4 trails, but we always have an eye out for RV camping opportunities from which to base future exploration. Frankly, in the areas we’ve traveled, which include the mountains from a roughly 100 mile “tall” swath ranging from Cortez, Colorado, through Durango, and east to Pagosa Springs, we’ve noticed exactly the opposite..while there’s plenty of “day use” traffic, developed campgrounds are severely underutilized. We’ve theorized that perhaps Colorado National Forests have finally raised prices to a point the public is balking, (thus driving people to boondocking?). Perhaps $20-plus per night is seen as just too much for dry camping in a campground?

CLeeNick
4 months ago
Reply to  CLeeNick

“Lest RVtravel.com’s readers think these are overblown complaints symptomatic of NIMBYism, a wide-angle lens reveals that the Colorado Rockies overall are under assault from pandemic-fleeing campers and seasonal workers living outdoors in a housing crisis.”

Your words, not mine.