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.