By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Thursday marked the sixth day of the partial federal government shutdown. Some have wondered how this is or will impact RV users who depend on federal lands for camping. Here’s the latest information that we have available:
Much of the federal land available to camping is held in the hands of the Department of Interior – one of the agencies that is presently affected by the shut down. The “children” of this agency include the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Also hit, United States Department of Agriculture which oversees the U.S. Forest Service. With the shutdown, all official media contacts are on furlough, and getting site-specific information is impossible. However:
National Parks: Most of the nation’s parks still have gates open to the public, but all “visitor services” have been cut off. The immediate sting is that nearly all national park campgrounds are closed. There are a few exceptions where states or nonprofits are stepping in with cash and volunteers to keep things going – Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park is one such exception. Call ahead – if someone answers the phone, you may be able to find a spot to stay.
Forest Service: As far as we can determine, Forest Service campgrounds are technically shut down as these, too, are designated visitor services.
Bureau of Land Management: A key player this time of year, as the BLM manages some of the most heavily used spots by visitors to Quartzsite, Arizona, the government shutdown has created some big problems. There are four large Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA) in the Quartzsite area – all four of them are officially shut down. In practical terms, for those who arrived and purchased visitor permits prior to the shutdown, their sites are secure; they may continue to use them.
However, large groups of RVers typically arrive at this time for the big events in January, and for them the issue is much thornier. Our staff was told by one “furloughed” volunteer who normally works at a check-in station at one of the LTVAs that law enforcement rangers advised anyone who inquires about staying at the LTVAs should be directed to stay at one of the area’s Short Term Visitor Areas. Their stays are limited to a maximum of two weeks. BLM law enforcement rangers have continued their patrols of the LTVAs, and have said anyone they find camping in them without a permit will be immediately issued a citation – no warnings.
Those who have paid for an LTVA camping permit normally have certain perks – a place to dump their holding tanks, fresh water availability, and garbage disposal facilities. At this time, there is no garbage pickup, and the dumpsters at the LaPosa South LTVA are literally (litter-ally?) overflowing. There is no anticipation that the trash will be picked up. At this time the dump stations and fresh water fill areas are still open; we were told that these are mandated to stay open despite the shutdown.
As to other BLM-operated areas, we are at a loss to provide much information. It seems likely that “dispersed camping” areas on BLM lands are still open; the big question mark would be more developed campgrounds. Our best advice: Call ahead where you can.
One possible bright spot in this mess: Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds have not been affected by the federal shutdown. A cheerful Corps representative in Alabama answered our phone call and said that all’s well with Corps’ campgrounds, “And we’re even getting paid!” he exalted. The Corps is under the auspices of the Department of Defense, one of the agencies that is presently funded.
Where else to stay? State and local parks have not been affected by the federal shutdown. It may well be that if the shutdown continues for long, these other agencies will see a big influx in users.
[Updated 12.30.18 0817 PST, relocating the USDA to it’s proper place in the government pecking order]