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Millions of acres of public lands could be used as campgrounds. The federal government won’t take the initiative, but you can

The pandemic year 2020 marked the beginning of the great upsurge in RV travel, and with it came the endemic of RV camp spot shortages.

Nowhere in the literature of RV camping can you venture without encountering the stories of campground reservation frustration, of the advent of the $100+ per night RV spot, or the iniquities of campers arriving at a campground only to be told that their reservation had been modified or cancelled.

Camp spot crowding, coupled with the rapidly rising cost of fuel, has infuriated some RVers and discouraged others. There are stories of new RV owners putting their coaches on the market after only a few months spent grappling with the downside of RV life. Predictions of gloom and doom have grown over the cross-over of the curve of supply and demand in all aspects of RV ownership, from the availability of the vehicles themselves, to poor manufacturer and dealer support and, of course, where to park across the country.

More RVs = fewer available campsites. Where do RVers go?

I believe the solution to where to park and camp lies at least partially in the vast areas of public and private lands.

The U.S. federal government owns roughly 640 million acres of land in the U.S. Individual state governments also own some public land, but the state landholdings are dwarfed by the massive federal numbers. Some of the federal lands are already accessible to campers in the National Forests and on property administered by the Bureau of Land Management. But the amount of land developed for campgrounds that offer water and waste hookups and electricity is a small fraction of the total potential campground space.

“Dispersed camping” or “boondocking”

“Dispersed camping” or “boondocking” is camping, more often than not on public lands, without amenities such as waste hookups and, in many instances, fresh water. These amenities could be built out and provided. Many thousands – perhaps millions – of acres of public lands that are not currently available for dispersed camping could be made available for use, at a reasonable cost of preparation. You’ll notice I keep emphasizing the word could because these are all things that are within the realm of possibility and that could be achieved by a well-organized and motivated group of RV enthusiasts. I am reminded of the Roosevelt-era WPA (Works Progress Administration) and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) work programs that improved public land for use in precisely this manner.

Is there anything I can do?

As far as we know right now, there are no announced plans for the federal government to undertake such an initiative, so there is presently a lack of will to do so. But the five U.S. federal agencies that manage public lands – the Department of the Interior (DOI), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) – are all highly political federal agencies that depend on congress, and therefore the public, for budgetary support. They are thus subject, at least in theory, to concerted efforts to guide public policy toward the “highest and best use” of the lands held in the public trust. Write or call your congressmen/congresswomen.

Short of a national program to prepare more federal and/or state land for greater public use, RV owners could organize themselves into regional groups to approach the federal agencies about a public-private partnership to develop certain public lands for recreational vehicle use, i.e., undertake the work to accomplish creating camping space on public land.

This idea for public lands isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds

The idea may sound far-fetched, but there are precedents. The aforementioned 1930s WPA might be considered one. I believe that the General Mining Act of 1872 also provides a historic model for the use of public lands by individuals and private concerns. While the Mining Act was codified to encourage vital mineral discovery and production, the notion that there should be practical uses allowed on the public lands was thereby established. A public-private citizen partnership to accomplish a goal like greater public access and use would be a win-win for both the people and the government agencies that manage the land.

RVers are resourceful. We all know we need to do something to address the dramatic shortfall in available camping locations. Never give up on the possibilities.

Related:

CRowded Campgrounds

##RVT1024

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Ronnie Bolling
24 days ago

We’ve really enjoyed boondocking out West! Perhaps if the govt. allowed private businesses to setup trash disposal, fresh water and dump stations near the main road entrance to BLM, etc. managed-land it would be a win-win for creating new tax-paying business and us RVers.

Carson Axtell
25 days ago

If anything, the exact opposite has been happening recently with the USFS and the BLM closing down access to public lands due to the amount of abuse these areas have been receiving from clueless or indifferent campers. Too many thoughtless people have been leaving trash and garbage, including soiled toilet paper, scattered around at makeshift campsites on public lands that the authorized government management agencies don’t have the personnel to police or maintain. As a result, these agencies have started to erect berms or install gates across access roads to protect these public lands from such slobs.

Snayte
1 month ago

Demand for camping space is at an all time high. Meanwhile in WI the Federal Govt has shuttered 7 campgrounds in the Chequamegon-Nicolet national forest.
So this is going to be an up hill battle.

Dennis G.
1 month ago

During the second CA lock-down last Christmas, when the governor closed all state and federal parks to overnight camping, we used BLM land. Without that land to camp on, our vacation would have been cancelled, for a second time that year.
Undeveloped BLM camping is extreme camping. No clear roads. No clear signs. You need to use GPS and map out the area you wish to visit, before you travel.
It is quiet, it can be very remote, The roads are dirt, and not maintained, or often graded. Some minor improvements would go a long way.

Leslie Smith
1 month ago

I live within a National Forest and I Camp. It seems that the current attitude of the Forest Service is to limit the publics access to the Forest. This has been growing in recent years. Roads are being blocked and signage limiting where you can go.

KellyR
1 month ago

I think the public land should be for nature and the animals that live there. They may be owned by the public, but I think we the public should stay off of them. Once we the public arrive, we seem to screw them up. WE screw them up – not the gov’t.

Forest
1 month ago

The US Forest Service is restricted from building a new campground if the location of a private or state campground is within a few miles (Non compete with private enterprise). I live in the east and do not want to pay taxes on new campgrounds just so campers can have utilities in the west.
I think dumpsters for boondocking will solve lots of problems, though. But who goes out in the boonies to empty dumpsters? From the pictures I have seen, garbage just seems to overflow!

Helen Fisher
1 month ago

how about controlling public/private campgrounds better? putting limits on the outrageous prices these people demand for their sites? They even limit the age of RVs! What’s with that? Instead of having the “bad” rvers ruining more public lands, ruining grasslands, forests, etc., displacing animals that will have no other place to go so they will end up being shot “for the safety of the public”……..are we trying to totally eliminate all the free land America has left?! America the Beautiful……….as it is we are already having to search for the beauty of America…..more concrete, more land mowed down, restrictions on everything, it just goes on and on.

Drew
1 month ago

I like the idea of a new WPA but who is going to work there? People aren’t going to work NOW, not even for decent money. I feel a little hesitant to get behind a program that will put utilities on public lands to attract campers. As has been said before- some of the best camping is off-grid, and to some extent most rv’s already come with the capability.

Fred
1 month ago

The BLM already has many areas, especially out west, that are concentrated boondocking areas. They are called “long term visitor areas”(LTVA). These designated areas can accommodate up to several thousand rvers in each area & many have full dump stations/fresh water on site. We have spent up to 5 months in these areas over the years & they are a great experience. The short term cost is about $3/day, or long term, about $1/day camping fee. I’d like to see more of these in the eastern half of the US, which could alleviate some of the campground crowding. These are not for people who need full service hook-ups, but if your rig is set up for boondocking, these areas are great. If you have some solar capacity, then the cost of gas for occasional generator use, propane for heating & cooking use, & the permit fee, the total cost to camp runs around$3-$5/day. And believe it or not, you will see a mix of people staying in everything from tents to half million dollar rvs.

Ronnie Bolling
24 days ago
Reply to  Fred

Couldn’t agree with you more! We’ve really enjoyed boondocking out West! Perhaps if the govt. allowed private businesses to setup trash disposal, fresh water and dump stations near the main road entrance to BLM, etc. managed-land it would be a win-win for creating new tax-paying business and us RVers.

BILLY Bob Thronton
1 month ago

You’re in the wrong political environment at the moment. The antiquities act was just used to restrict public use (i.e. Grand Stair Case, UT) that the former administration opened up. Elections have consequences, so pay attention, or head to Jellystone park and have breakfast with Yogi.

Tom M
1 month ago

Most of the public use that was restricted in Utah was for mining companies to destroy the land for profit.

Susan RN MPH
1 month ago

That’s completely false. The Trump administration opened up these national monuments so exploitation by energy companies. The Biden administration stopped that so regular people can enjoy these areas. And having been to that part of Utah I am very grateful for this improvement. https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/utah-monuments-marine-conservation-restored-biden/507-43b29c3e-0ba1-4478-96a8-cd19b940bdea

Tom
1 month ago

I guess your use of the words “opened up” mean opened for developers and not for general public use. 2017, the monument’s size was reduced by half. Don’t believe everything the **** guy tells you, check your facts.

Vincee
1 month ago

Elsewhere in today’s newsletter is an article talking about two supposed outdoor associations with one highly supportive of the hot political football of dumping almost a trillion dollars to fight climate change. I would like this newsletter to encourage outdoors groups to lobby for more realistic goals of opening up federal lands to camping and outdoor activities than trying to chase the rabbit down the climate hole.

Mike
1 month ago

The last 3 months, we have traveled to many of the national parks in the mid west. I can tell you we drove through acres and acres of empty space that, with a little effort could be made into camping areas without upsetting the balance of nature. The wide open spaces are NOT full!

It seems to me that large organizations like RV manufacturers, Good Sam, Cabelas, etc. could be approached (perhaps by RV travel) to lobby congress into appropriating funds to expand campsites in national parks and forest. After all, it is their best interest to do so, especially if people are truly giving up camping due to lack of campsites. Congress tends to ignore the voices of individuals.

Bob M
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Except at election time they pretend to listen.

Ron Sifford
1 month ago

DSA – Divided States of America

BILLY Bob Thronton
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron Sifford

Exactly. Listen to Ron, it’s not their land, its all of ours, with proper custodial care in mind.

Michael Falkner
1 month ago

Please stop talking about using public lands for campgrounds!!!!! There are already to many newbies leaving messes for everone else to clean up, and all there noise and machinery. SHUT UP

Scott R. Ellis
1 month ago

I agree. If you don’t already know this, and aren’t equipped to do it, just don’t.

wanderer
1 month ago

The locations where newbies are leaving messes (are you talking about California?) are exactly where there needs to be more capacity built out. There are public lands near major metro areas that need to provide inexpensive public recreation. The Forest Service’s ‘distributed camping’ is a joke in many areas. If you’re going to let people camp, then grade some sites so someone without a 4WD can use them, put out a dumpster, have some hookups or at least dump-fill locations.

This idea that all campers have $800 worth of backpacking equipment and will cheerfully spend a week in the wilderness packing out all their garbage is ridiculous. Let’s deal with reality, people want to get away on weekends in cars and RVs, we need public facilities to be there, and BE STAFFED to deal with them. It’s amazing how seeing a ranger twice a day cuts down on shabby behavior.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago
Reply to  wanderer

That would cost a LOT of money. Money the fed claims they don’t have. Meantime, you can boondock to your heart’s content on land with NO amenities other than space you can set up on. As usual, once the gov gets involved, it all goes to hell.

wanderer
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Disagree on every point.

Grading, siting a dumpster, and paying rangers is NOT a lot of money in the greater scheme of things. Meanwhile, we have spent trillions on foreign wars.

We have built few new public parks in the last generations, while the population grew by a hundred million souls. In 1980 there were 226 million on the us, in 2020 331 million. It’s time to make a few new investments, at least in areas where there is need.

As far as the ‘gov gets involved, it all goes to hell.’; talk to anyone who has recently spent a night at a cramped $45 a night parking lot private park, then a $18 one in a lovely Corps of Engineers lakeside site.

BILLY Bob Thronton
1 month ago
Reply to  wanderer

Hurumph

Helen Fisher
1 month ago

yes, thank you, Michael!

Scott R. Ellis
1 month ago

If you think you have to have “water and waste hookups and electricity” to camp, just stay home. The “wide open spaces” are already too full.

Then again, maybe I should be all for this: concentrating people who do think they need hookups might ease crowding in the rest of the boonies.

Last edited 1 month ago by Scott R. Ellis
TIM MCRAE
1 month ago

Hallelujah!

That’s what I’m talking about!

This suggestion is a positive solution to both an urgent need and long term improvements to our lives and planet.

Isn’t this article far superior to the one that laments our trade groups aren’t “talking enough about climate change” and pitting them against each other to do ‘more’.

What is the ‘more’?

Agree with this proposal or not, recognize that it suggests actual steps…

Last edited 1 month ago by TIM MCRAE
G13
1 month ago
Reply to  TIM MCRAE

First of all, I’m not convince that RV’ing is exploding. Of course CG fees are rising, so has everything else. I mean everything else! And when you can’t even get any progress on the build quality of RV’s, regulations absent and lobbying efforts, what makes you think the knuckleheads in D.C. are gonna act on this? No, really, it’s wishful thinking. Only one commenting is you, did everyone skip this article? Besides, that takes money, lots of it to build/construct, manage and maintain. Lastly, tearing down the natural preserves of the planet is not a “positive solution.”