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As demand soars, Forest Service closes campgrounds

What is the U.S. Forest Service doing to meet the increasing demand for more camping opportunities?

By Scott Linden
Your tax dollars (not) at work? I doubt there’s a better example of bureaucratic disconnect than the tone-deaf U.S. Forest Service’s cutting the number of campgrounds while demand soars. It’s contributing to “campground crowding” on a national scale, perpetrated by folks who, ostensibly, work for us.

My investigation was slow-walked by bureaucrats several times, but I ultimately overcame the stonewalling and got some answers. (Washington D.C. has learned the slower they respond to reporters’ questions, the fewer stories like this will see the light of day.) It started months ago, with a simple question: What is the U.S. Forest Service doing to meet the increasing demand of taxpayers for more camping opportunities?

After some chain-yanking, diplomatic acrobatics, and a boatload of playing nice while biting my tongue, I got a straight answer and you’re not going to like it: Since 2012, the annual growth rate in campground use has risen 10 percent while the number of campgrounds shrank 5 percent. That’s before the COVID-fueled onslaught of fresh-air seekers in motorcoaches, trailers and tents seeking “social distance.”

Campground in Tahoe National Forest

In what economics textbook does this make sense? My first reaction was, “Where’s the beef?” But I got nothin’ but grease and free napkins.

Say what?

I was first assured things were well in hand. Al Remley, Forest Service Acting Assistant Director, Recreation, said: “We are working on plans to add more campsites to existing campgrounds and to further enhance and develop existing campsites and campgrounds to better accommodate expected future use and demand.”

This land is your land … or is it?

Let’s be clear: This is land owned by the citizens of the U.S. The Forest Service should be managing it as their first chief Gifford Pinchot instructed, for “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” That includes the millions of tax-paying RV travelers looking for a parking place next weekend, doesn’t it?

You decide if they are

Some numbers: The U.S. Forest Service owns and manages (or mismanages) more than 4,700 campgrounds. That’s a net loss since 2010 of 264 facilities that could be your next destination, now gone. That’s 89,494 campsites … before the COVID-related explosion in demand. You know what’s happened since? Closed signs, denied reservations, mob scenes and traffic jams at check-out time, on land we all own but can’t use. With a budget of $5.14 billion, they can’t find a few million to scrape off (and try to level) some more dirt?

Policymakers … without a policy

Worse yet, Remley said the feds don’t have a national policy for campground expansion, leaving it to local bureaucrats. Don’t be holding your breath for one, either. These are the same government employees whose budgets are already squeezed by fire fighting (how’s that workin’ for ya?), managing squatter populations and silly initiatives from restricting wilderness trail access to selling parking passes.

There is little incentive for seeking additional campground funding, as it piles on more workload—something unionized government employees are loath to accept. And don’t hold your breath for Congress’ help. A high-ranking Forest Service official who asked to remain anonymous said, “Forests do not receive enough appropriations to operate and maintain their existing sites.” Read: No new spots for your pull-behind, motorhome or truck camper.



Your turn

Independent research—and your own experience—foretells an onslaught of RV and tent camping demand this summer and long into the future. So, if you want a place to park, and you want your money’s worth from the federal land you own, call your local forest supervisor and ask why they’re not opening more campgrounds.

##RVT1041b

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Josh McDermott
6 months ago

I can understand some frustration, but I could NEVER support your argument. Yes, the parks and camp sites are crowded, but statements like “they can’t find a few million to scrape off (and try to level) some more dirt?” Is the exact reason why the national parks were created in the first place. With the mentality of just scrape it so we can sell the land until we have a parking lot, why even come? The parks were created to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and… leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Unimpaired being the key word there.

I find it sad that the extraordinary land that has been set aside is (to you) as worthless as a the soil and rock its created from. Like saying a rare car is only worth it’s value of scrap metal. I really hope you understand what you are complaining about.

Henderson 11
7 months ago

It’s not just the forest service that we are getting screwed by ,here on the Oregon Coast they have raised the price of parking and park entery as well as camping fees while drastically cutting back on our access to usable facilities and setting parking at a further distance making it impossible for some elderly to have what should be public access to the people’s land and as usual it’s all BS the government has already taking away so many emenities in our lives to make sure we cannot have fun and have tried to lock us in our homes and throw away the keys and it’s high time that we the people say we have had enough and remind them who in the hell they work for and whoa land they are dealing with ,the rich get richer while the poor get homeless attitude does not work and I will use my second amendment rights if necessary to get the government back on track with my fellow Americans if that’s what it’s gonna take to get it threw their heads that the BS NEEDS TO STOP THIS IS USA NOT USSR

Tom Horn
7 months ago

Don’t be a slave to the RV parks, Solar, Gen and Freedomdock
RV parks are Bandits ready to Rob You Blind

Damonica
7 months ago

If the forest service didn’t have to spend so much time cleaning up after “people” who lack the common sense and decency to not leave garbage, destruction and literal excrement behind then maybe they could handle more campsites

BILLY Bob Thronton
7 months ago
Reply to  Damonica

So one is to believe that FS people cant do their jobs, because of clean up. Nonsense. Mismanagement is at the core of that agency. Needs a good house cleaning.

Linda Campbell
7 months ago

Statements of fact are different than those of opinion. Opinions disguised as Facts defines propaganda. This is based the lies of opinions bs to hide the fact that this result of the pyramid economics of Reaganomics.
Starting with Reagans tenure and expanded into Trump’s, Republican Administrations have cut fiscal resources to maintain our National Forests.. Since labor or human beings are the biggest expense, due to structure of pyramid Capitalism, they are the first cut.
This was to hollow out the NON UNIONIZED Forest Service and to encourage out sourcing labor with Commercial development. This resulted in lower labor costs and with low pay entry level jobs. There’s ot enough labor available to maintain campgrounds let alone the forests.

Of course, it’s SOP, for Republicans to blame THE GOVERNMENT AND NON EXISTING UNION LABOR FOR THE PROBLEM THEY CREATED. But these opinions work well with those w/ white skin tones that make them feel entitled at the expense of We Taxpayers

Henderson 11
7 months ago
Reply to  Linda Campbell

You cannot limit this to just the forest service the parks and rec services are doing the same type of stuff locally they are spending a billion dollars on south jetty repairs supposibly but so far all I see is the north jetty getting our access limited and the government spending a rediculous amount of money bringing in 3 rocks at a time on semis with flat bed trailers and I kid you not this is happening ,AND they also choose to endanger us by letting companies like FB do offshore drilling The earth plates on the Pacific ocean are fragile a earthquake would cause a tsunami and I could see drilling causing a earthquake ,people need to start speaking up like this and speak loudly and stop this abuse from the government in so so many ways

Bob
7 months ago
Reply to  Linda Campbell

Are u crazy?? Its the rich {bleeped} who are bribing govt. workers in a position to liquidate our public lands to sell pieces of the most pristine areas so they can build their mansions in seclusion and keep the “riff raff” i.e. those who are not rich,out!! I can show you a prime example in my hometown of Oshkosh Wisconsin we’re a local University of Wisconsin official transferred state owned land to the university, then transferred said Land from the universities ownership to a private university support organization who in turn sold the state-owned land which by the way is hundreds of acres of state-owned wildlife refuge with State maintained trails that is now in the private ownership of one rich man who bought the local country club also. So now he built his mansion in the middle of said wildlife refuge my name is Bob I live in Oshkosh Wisconsin and you may reach me at k r u s e r s e n i o r 1 @ gmail . com you come visit me and I will take you there and show you!!

Kyla
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob

Wow, that is so sad! It’s basically the same as what’s happening here in my home in SW Colorado. The extremely rich communities around telluride are slowly but surely bribing officials to sell off public land and taking advantage of how desperate the FS and CPW are for the funds to maintain what they already struggle with through ever shrinking budgets and exploding visitor numbers. One of my favorite places on earth when I was young was just off the water on the back side of my favorite lake at the base of 12000 ft peaks, last time I went there, this place specifically and many areas along the roads are now owned by billionaires in Texas who run massive amounts of cattle and undercut the local farmers with the sheer volume they are capable of. I used to sit on the edge of the lake in the early morning and watch the heard of elk at least 100 strong come to the bank of the water to drink, most days shortly after the farmers who at the time grazed their herds on public land had brought their cows down to drink. Now the only one of said farmers that I actually knew, (or my father did), had gone bankrupt and been forced to retire because he can no longer use the land he needed and that [bleeped] from Texas bought up all the water rights. I’d never understood untill last year why my father never wanted to go back. Well the elk never come near the lake anymore because it’s consumed by 100s of cows mooing and shitting around the shore all the time.
Still most, people will continue to blame the government without realizing that we are the government if we choose to be.

mtbmitch
6 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Hunt brothers did this in Idaho. Needs to be a law to limit out of state people from owning so much and not millions of acres.

BILLY Bob Thronton
7 months ago
Reply to  Linda Campbell

Wow, anybody want to talk this one off the ledge!

Lynne
7 months ago

So sad. Camping has been a mental health and life saver for so many through the last couple of years.

Bobby spain
7 months ago

NFS is not the only one closing them down.
Tva just shut down Harmon creek. A place were campers could set up for the day or year.
After the land lease owner past away. And now tva staes there is no orperater for grounds. This was one of the places were large trallers were alowed to setup for a yearly feed. Some have ben there for long time. Now those foks will lose there traller because of cost to move it. Most of the traller owners are elderly and can’t aford that cost. After march 15 2022 they become tva’s property and I sure will be sold.

Michael Starks
7 months ago

“There is little incentive for seeking additional campground funding, as it piles on more workload—something unionized government employees are loath to accept.” Scott, I don’t know what your background is, but it sure isn’t journalism, and it’s obvious that you’ve never been a union member. Being competent in driving and camping in an RV doesn’t qualify you to bloviate about subjects you clearly know nothing about. Time for you to go back to nature.

By the way, shame on RV Travel’s editors for giving you a platform. I thought they had higher standards than that.

Grateful for life
7 months ago

So Yeah, I thought camping was about being out in the wilderness without technology of what 90% of Americans take camping with them. This is absolutely rediculous to think people are worried about a place to park an RV equipped with television computers cell phone chargers ect… This is what you’ve taught your children. No good Robinhood camping consist of family and or friends tents, sleeping bags, campfires and fun. Man kind has become a disgrace to humanity and our country and have no respect for God’s land. No one owns anything life itself is blessing. I say take all parking spaces from campgrounds and if you want to go camping pack everything in the old fashion way. No vehicles no RV’s tents and sleeping bags good old family fun.

Henderson 11
7 months ago

That is a nice thought but there is way to many women who will say hell no to no hot water or curling irons ,technology has made us dependant as well as ignorant ,personally I go to the bank of the rivers to camp the old fashion way even if it’s posted no camping because there is no reason in it everyone just needs to remember Pack it in Pack it out don’t leave a mess or your garbage that is what started all this

Bill wilson
7 months ago

Camping 50 years. not a new guy. I have a baby now and limited time to camp so I have to make reservations. eight years ago I tried calling different for service ranger stations for local information. you already know no one answered the phone. about a year ago I was trying to get information on what dispersed camping was open. tried every ranger station in California left messages and no one ever called me back. I found a website that listed all the email addresses for all the district managers west of the Mississippi. I sent them all an email. about a week later a nice lady in Montana called me wondering why I was emailing her office. i’m in California not Montana by the way. The messages all said were working from home and will get back to you. even email auto responders saying the same thing. out of maybe 50 emails I got one call from a lady five states away. Government workers getting full salary plus benefits working from home not answering the phone or email. Just my experience

Bill wilson
7 months ago

thank goodness they got rid of that statue of the guy that was a character in a Robbins Williams movie. Shameful

Bill wilson
7 months ago

Unionized Govt workers. that pretty much says it all. they will continue to shrink the number of campsites. because they don’t care. but the good news is there’s a growing number of private campgrounds. for some reason I don’t want to trust the government

Henderson 11
7 months ago
Reply to  Bill wilson

Fire every government official we have and start from scratch with people who still believe in the constitution instead of trying to abolish it

Garry
7 months ago
Reply to  Henderson 11

It cost too much to fire them but I get your point. Union contracts allow them a cheque if they work or if they don’t. Severance adds up.

Kyla
6 months ago
Reply to  Henderson 11

And as much as I don’t believe in the death penalty, make it a capitol offence for any public servant to take money from anyone ever except their pension. Ban them from owning stocks or any kind of business, stop them leaving office and getting just do nothing jobs that pay absurdly (because they served their donors loyally while in office). Hilary Clinton’s wall Street speeches come to mind.

Brian
7 months ago

Touring is still viable, but we’ve been “camping” more and more at Cracker Barrel, Walmart, and truck stops. Not like it used to be, unfortunately. What a shame!

Karen Kennedy
7 months ago

Yes. These corrupt politicians know that citizens are awake to their crimes and now they’re spending OUR TAX MONEY to protect themselves.

HL Hughes
7 months ago

Truthful article, unfortunately the forest service has spent ever increasing amounts of money on environmental studies and reports that have had no positive effects.
Recently a large amount of their budget has gone to fighting the recent devastating fires, that were enabled by environmental restrictions on harvest, thinning and clean up of the national forest for over three decades, that allowed the overgrowth of the forest and enabled the bark beetle.
Please contact your local forest service and ask them to just allow the public back in to the closed areas and campgrounds.
We don’t need new or updated areas, just reopen the closed ones.

Shelia
7 months ago

Thank you for bringing forward this very real issue

Damon
7 months ago

Nice to see somebody start to finally push back. I’ve been fighting the elites in the nature beaurocracy trying to make it where only the 1% can ever camp by putting ridiculous limits on us. I still remember when 20 years ago yosemite got millions to fix campsites and in stead they shut half of them down. They still say they will build them. Someday. Better.

Kyla
7 months ago

This article is honestly one of the most thoughtless criticisms of the forest service I’ve ever read. So let me break this down piece by piece. To start with, at one point in the article the author points to the 5.14 billion dollar budget that the FS nominally has. I agree 5.14 billion sounds like a ton of money, and for an individual, or even a medium town, it would be. However, the USFS is in charge of caring for over 300,000 SqMi of land (193 million acres), there are near 5000 official marked and managed campgrounds (that’s excluding all of the dispersed campgrounds, which still need some amount of maintenance), and there and over 88,000 miles of maintained trails in the US. So ultimately, that 5.14 billion which sounds so huge, works out to 17,086$ per square mile of land, which is not even enough to pay a single person’s salary for a year, especially not for the backbreaking labor that work can be a lot of times, and no one person could care for an entire square mile. TBC…..

Kyla
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Okay so continuing on. Overall the USFS budget works out to 27$ per acre of land. This does not even consider how drastically trump cut their budget, or how it’s been effectively being cut continually since the 70s. This measly 27$ per acre is the reason why most of the work of the forest service is done by volunteers like myself, in many instances, they’ll keep you fed while you’re volunteering, but sometimes theyre spread so thin they, can’t even afford to do that. Also, many areas are closed down or new development is discouraged for the health of the ecosystem. So, whenever you check into a campground, and some of the sights are closed, etc.. realize that the host, who’s job is very difficult (if you think it’s not you should try it. People think because they’re on a CG that they can just trash the place because that’s what the hosts job is, and then there’s assholes who don’t understand that many routes end up closed either to protect nature or because they’re literally too dangerous) realize that that hosts only compensation for that work could very well be the view and somewhere to park their camper, or string up their tent.
About 2 years ago, not very far from where I live there was a flood that basically ruined miles of a popular trail, ( there were likely more floods than this one, but I saw the devistation of this one) it took dozens of unpaid volunteers, and a few rangers, weeks of continual labor to clean up this trail. There were hundreds of felled trees on the trail, parts of it were washed out completely or covered in debris, it was endless hours of serious labor by dozens of people, over weeks, just to maintain/repair the final 4 miles of a single trail. The management of our forests is falling apart because these people are expected to maintain vast swaths of land, with very little money, no real authority, continually exploding visitor numbers, and a host of environmental disasters. The increase in wildfires and the bark beetle epidemic is not even slightly the fault of the FS……

SusanB
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

THANK YOU!!! Your response is better written than the article and far better informed.

Karen Kennedy
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Actually, you’re wrong about President Trump cutting the FS budget. According to the FS Appropriations, 10-year Data and Trends Report shows that Obama cut the budget, and it was increased from FY17 to FY20. Biden cut last year’s budget considerably. The amount of money is important, but when there’s an entirely new set of problems created by squatters, that’s going to take a more defensive approach. Thank you for volunteering.

Linda Campbell
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Thank you for the FACTS..

DildanusMaximus
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

This is a huge problem for the 4×4 community as well. Instead of letting us go in and clear downed trees or maintain trails the dingalings just lock the gate until they get around to it which can be years sometimes. There’s more involved than the author gets into but the fact that the people managing lands are inept is not even debatable. Have you ever seen a private camp ground or off-road park close? Nope because they’re managed properly.

BILLY Bob Thronton
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Trump didnt cut their budget, stop with the nonsense

Karen Kennedy
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Thank you for pointing that out. The individual who wrote this article only briefly mentioned the “squatters,” who have become semi-permanent occupiers on land managed by the FS. Hate it for you, bro, but these aren’t TAX PAYERS! These people who have now taken over FS land, are non-contributing bums, living in broken down RVs. When they leave the forest, they leave a giant mess behind them. Actual TAXPAYERS like me have to pick up the tab. Again, thank you for calling out the individual who wrote this article.

Susan Magee
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Well said. As a volunteer camphost for 7 years, it’s true how people trash the place and disregard safety.
Please don’t leave your campfire burning, being surrounded by forest fires and smoke.
Oh, I could write a book!

Desert buckaroo
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

You claim one person can’t care for an entire square mile.. yet thousands of people are able to care for far more than that daily. Ranchers care for and manage hundreds of square miles per individual on an annual basis. Perhaps learn about reality before you stick your foot in your mouth on a public forum. Currently with our crew and acreage, on average, each individual is responsible for approximately 390 acres annually. This includes managing grazing, irrigation, fencing, wildfire mitigation, etc.

Kyla
6 months ago

It’s a far different situation to come in and raze an ecosystem to the ground and replace it with pasture than it is to maintain a forest, a few dozen square miles of farm is easy to maintain comparatively. For one, the land is partioned off and fenced away and posted, and.. oh yeah, you have the authority to literally shoot anyone trespassing, something rangers can’t really get away with. Second, farms and ranches are neatly separated into different sections depending on what you decide to use those sections for, and all of the trees that are in your way are gone, if you didn’t like where the tree was you cut it down and move on. Third, all farming on such a giant scale is done by people with millions of dollars for extremely high tech equipment. The planting and tilling is all done by tractors, and the watering is done by irrigation systems. I’ve known people who actually cared for their individual farm with 1 decent tractor and some water rights, and they’re crushed by the people who can afford equipment to manage large swaths. Finally, you have the complete authority over your farmland. You went in cleared fields completely and drove your giant tractors across the fields, you don’t have to spend hundreds of hours trying to comb over the potential dangers to an ecosystem of taking out trees to build roads, trails, etc. Seriously, people with 100k or more of equipment can easily maintain hundreds of acres of land that has already had a complete ecosystem overhaul, and maintain only the plants and animals that make you money, on land that already has drivable roads to it and is pretty much flat and treeless. It is much more difficult to try to maintain the actual ecosystem of an area. But if you actually think that you could manage hundreds of acres of completely untamed land with no roads while taking extreme are to even inadvertently do anything that could hurt a single animal, and trying to balance people’s right to experience nature with that. All the while you have to continually deal with idiots who degrade the land, or being called away from legit work to help rescue some dumbass who didn’t check the weather to see the multi day snowstorm, before he drove up a closed road, illegally, and now someone has to help them.

Desert buckaroo
7 months ago
Reply to  Kyla

Ranchers manage far more than that on a annual basis. With our current crew and acreage, we average a tick over 19 square miles per individual on an annual basis. This includes grazing management, water allocation, fencing repair/construction, and wildfire mitigation/ suppression. Still think one person can’t manage over square mile? Perhaps learn more about reality before putting your foot in your mouth next time

Kyla
6 months ago

Comparing managing a private farm with equipment vs public wilderness lands with very little equipment in much of it(you know the official wilderness areas that you can’t even take a bike on. Only living things). Is about like comparing being able to keep a massive private theatre clean with many employees, to having to keep a 30 person bathroom in a NY subway clean singlehandedly during rush hour

Johnsrudtf
7 months ago

Not a thought through opinion on what’s happening. It seems like someone couldn’t take the vacation they wanted, got upset, and wrote this. Get a grip, read the other comments here as they are genuinely more informative than I am. But even I can see that this is an unwarranted rant. Lol. If you like public land so much then just dry camp on BLM land? Stop complaining that you don’t have access to taxpayer funded pull through campsites with utilities for your 40 foot RV. Get a grip

Karen Kennedy
7 months ago
Reply to  Johnsrudtf

Bravo, good sir.

LoriHalderson
7 months ago

Bigfoot has left it’s children and it is causing forest fires…

BILLY Bob Thronton
7 months ago
Reply to  LoriHalderson

I knew it.