Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Campground closures? Here’s a work-around


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Major players in public lands recreation across the country are National Forests. Trails, recreation sites and campgrounds, along with a network of roads that makes access to all of these things easier for RVers, are a mainstay for many in the RVing community. But alarm bells just continue to ring that should be of concern.

As an example, the San Juan National Forest is a huge chunk of public property, covering nearly two million acres – almost 3,000 square miles, touching on 10 different counties in the western part of the Colorado. You may well be familiar with it – if you ever caught a ride on the Durango and Silverton Railroad, you’ve passed through a section of that forest. Needless to say, it’s not a small player in terms of public forest lands.

Last year the Forest Service officials found themselves in that uncomfortable position of having to cut back services due to budget slashing. In 2006, the Service was handed $2.5 million to handle recreation needs in the forest. By 2018, officials say they’ll have only about $1.7 million for the same job — despite increased demands by the public for recreation. If the cuts weren’t bad enough in themselves, Forest Service folk say they’re already behind the eight-ball to the tune of $3 million in deferred maintenance.

So what gets hacked? Count on campgrounds to shut down, trails to go bye-bye, and other services that the recreating public depends on to shrink down substantially. You may not be too concerned, figuring your recreational travels won’t take you to the San Juan, but hang on — if it’s happening there, you can be sure that cutbacks will come to a National Forest near you.

boondock camper
R&T De Maris photo

So what’s to be done? We won’t even try to touch on the politics of this matter, but rather, shoot for something practical. If you’ve already experienced camping in a National Forest Service Campground, chances are pretty good you’ve learned to get along without the standard fare of “RV resorts.” You can handle doing without electricity flowing out of a plug-in, and fresh water under pressure from a tap. Let’s take it a step farther: Do without the campground.

That’s right, there’s plenty of camping to be done in National Forests, even without setting tire in a developed campground. Dispersed camping, as it’s called, simply puts you away from other RVers, and more in touch with the land.

Dispersed camping is defined by Uncle Sam as: “Camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground,” and for the most part, that also means “at no charge,” and “with few crowds.” Of course, you’ll be doing primitive camping — no water, toilets or garbage dumpsters. Can you handle that?

The fact that it’s free doesn’t mean there are no strings attached. Here are some guidelines that will make Uncle’s stewards of the forest a lot happier if you observe them:

• Try and camp on bare soil to preserve grass and plant populations.

• Stay a mile away from established campgrounds and 200 feet from streams.

• While meadows are lovely, park your rig on the edge — rather than in the middle — so that others can appreciate a pristine scene.

• ALWAYS observe fire restrictions and safe campfire practices. If you stay in an area where others have had fires before, use their fire rings if possible. Don’t cut live (or even standing dead) trees or plants. Find deadwood or bring your own.

• Pack out your trash. Be a good neighbor and dump your holding tanks ONLY at proper dump stations.

• Check with Forest Service officials to make sure you don’t boondock in a closed area.

While you may not be able to do much about budget cuts, at this point, camping in the National Forests is still firmly in place.



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6 years ago

The Forest Service has been closing the lesser used campgrounds around here for years. It has created boondocking opportunities.

When the campground is closed and removed, only the picnic tables, fire rings, signs, barriers, water system, and tables are removed. It is still a large flat area with big shady trees, still has road access. And is still close to whatever the attraction was when the campground was first built years ago. We boondock on old campground sites several times each year.

Chris Potter
6 years ago

The thing that worries me, is that these cutbacks are also going to reduce the number of boondocking sites as well. Many of the National Forests have adapted the attitude that part of their duties include surveillance of boondocking sites. Less funding and fewer rangers in the field to check the sites, could mean fewer boondocking sites as well. This attitude of surveillance has also resulted in the closing of boondocking sites too far from the main roads for the Forest Service to “keep an eye on them.”
Here in the Santa Fe National Forest, (due in part to pressure from the fringe environmental groups that inhabit the City of Santa Fe) the Southwest Corner of the Forest around La Cueva, Cuba, and Jemez Springs has seen a huge number of road closures, and consequently considerably fewer boondocking sites.
SOME of the other National Forests, particularly those farther from the larger cities, have a better attitude of service to the public, and have kept at least a reasonable number of boondocking sites open.

Tommy Molnar
6 years ago

It seems like more and more, we’re being dealt restrictions on where we can ‘camp’. RV’ers are having almost as much trouble finding camping spots as OTR truckers trying to find places to park and sleep. When I read about all the RV problems ‘back east’ it makes me glad I live in Nevada where (currently, at least) we can camp just about anywhere we like. Some of the surrounding states are still like this with miles and miles of BLM land, but I’m always wary of government overreach.

And yes, I’m aware some of our problems have been caused by errant campers who spoil it for us all.

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