National Forest Service: “We Had To Make A Decision To Close It To Dispersed Camping”

By Kyle & Olivia Brady | Founders of Drivin' & Vibin' | We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

National Forest Service: “We Had To Make A Decision To Close It To Dispersed Camping”

The National Forest Service is struggling this summer. As we reported last week, Sedona, Arizona, is the most recent location abused by campers.

Dispersed camping is an activity many RV, tent, and van campers use to connect with nature and escape developed campgrounds. However, the rural nature of these campsites means they also have no amenities.

This means trash cans, dump stations, and water hookups aren’t available. If campers don’t pick up after themselves, the land becomes trashed quickly.

Today we’re diving deep into this issue with Brady Smith, a Public Affairs Officer for the NFS Coconino Office.

Here are our questions and Smith’s responses:

Has RV traffic increased this summer in the Coconino National Forest?

Yes, exponentially.

With COVID having kept everyone at home for a long time and not traveling much, we see RVs and campers regularly that we would normally see only during a long holiday weekend.

What type of National Forest land abuse is most common this summer?

#1 Trash & Waste.

We have a problem with trash every year, which increases any time the number of people using the forest increases. 

People leave all types of trash, try burning it in campfire rings, or just leave it scattered across their campsite. Others bag it and then place it alongside the forest road, which is not allowed since we do not have any garbage services in the national forest. 

Every time someone does that, it begins to attract others who leave their trash bags, thinking it is the place where it will be picked up. When bags are left behind, birds and crows break the bags open and end up scattering the trash across the forest. 

Unfortunately, the national forest starts to resemble a dumpsite rather than a campsite. We are also seeing a large amount of toilet paper and human waste across the entire national forest. People are supposed to pack out anything they packed in—including their waste and that of their pets. If that is not possible, people should bury their waste at least 7 inches under the ground. 

In short, people really need to be practicing Leave No Trace ethics.

#2 Unauthorized off road use.

Visitors are driving off forest roads to camp in areas that motorized vehicles are not allowed to go, which in turn begins to create an unauthorized user-created road or trail. 

When one person drives off road, others see the example and do it, which causes many negative impacts to the fragile desert land. Many areas—especially in the area west of Sedona—are used by ranchers who live there and have legitimate grazing allotments and several water tanks and troughs scattered across the land. 

People are not supposed to camp within a quarter of a mile of a wildlife water tank, but yet we have people doing that all the time and creating campsites where they shouldn’t be that interferes with cattle grazing and impacts wildlife. 

As well, they drive into areas that are like meadows and end up destroying the area for many years to come.

In Flagstaff, the National Forest recently closed dispersed camping on Naval Observatory Road. Was this because of misuse and damage to the land?

Yes. In the area of the Naval Observatory Road near A-1 Mountain, we were having a lot of problems with people using that area specifically for residential use (longer than 14 days), hauling their broken-down trailers there to use as a residence, and impacting the land severely with trash, human waste, old furniture, and abandoned campfires. 

We had to make a decision to close it to dispersed camping in order to protect the land, community, and surrounding residents.

Will Forest Road 525 be closed down if land abuse continues?

We are looking in to options for how to manage camping and recreation along Forest Road 525 in west Sedona because the use in that area is so high that it is negatively impacting the land, roads, and wildlife. 

One of the options would be designated dispersed campsites along select areas of FR525. 

This would create a registry of campers on a first-come, first-served basis, that easily establishes how long they have been there, keeps people from using the site more than 14 days, and limits the amount of people who impact the area by allowing camping only in those designated numbered sites. 

Other options include closing it down completely to any camping. 

However, we strive to keep areas as open as possible, as this is the public’s land to be enjoyed by all.

What is the best thing campers can do to help preserve these areas?

Practice Leave No Trace ethics and pack out anything you packed in. Do not leave trash or waste of any kind behind, and make sure to follow the Motor Vehicle Use Map when using a motorized vehicle on the forest. 

And please remember that in many areas you camp, there are residents and ranches that depend on that land for their living. Be considerate of that and take care of the land.

Please Heed The Warning of the National Forest Service

As long-time dispersed campers, we at Drivin’ & Vibin’ can’t reiterate enough the magnitude of this situation.

We never want to discourage you from enjoying free camping. Instead, let us encourage you to get out there and camp! The only thing we ask is to leave it better than you found it!

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20 comments

  1. I cannot, for the life of me, understand what IS wrong with this new breed of campers. It makes me sick to see all the trash they leave behind. Someone has failed in teaching them respect…for the other campers but mostly for the land. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. It’s something we learned early on. I don’t boondock. I wish I was brave enough to do so but with people crapping up the land nowadays, I have absolutely no desire to do so.

    1. Hi,my name is Paul,I am presently boondockin on FR535 8 miles S of Flagstaff. I had a family camp for 1 nite last weekend,left behind 3 big bags of trash,for a 1 nite stay. Thr Ravens came in Tuesday, bout 20 of em tore the bags an scattered trash over a large area,all around me in all the campsites they are overloaded with trash and human waste. Another one gone

      1. The Game and fish officer told me he hauls 3000 pounds of trash a year out of the 535 area. 😕

  2. These aren’t campers. They’re derelict homeless folks. They’ve most likely lost their homes. Probably getting $840 per week from unemployment to remain that way. I’m up in Flag from Prescott working for a week, boondocking it. Go up to Marshall Lake. It becomes immediately clear what’s going on. Come on, and head up & bring a trailer. Haul out the trash. Because it’s pilling up.

  3. I grew up camping and living off the land. The biggest thing I am seeing now is that those that are 20-early30’s mostly never had the experiences or teachings that I had and do not understand camping etiquette. even a lot of weekend “play” shooters. Taking things out to a place and using them for targets and then just leaving them there. People need to clean up after themselves. I will spend 1/4 of the time I am at a unmaintained shooting area cleaning up after myself and others to help keep the area from becoming a land fill. More people need to have time in the boy scouts or something. But it really needs to change. Only problem is articles like this don’t get the exposure they truly need to make a difference.

  4. This is a very disturbing article. We are the type of campers that don’t get out on our beautiful federal or public land often enough. I do know that when we do get out there, I don’t want to see or smell other peoples mess. These people are pigs and lack the respect & freedom we have to enjoy our camping experience. Stay home in your own pig setting and have your own kind of fun. You don’t have the right to destroy or abuse OUR campsites. Set up a tent or drag your old beaten up trailer, hammock, & crap to a spot in your own property! I am a native here and you all have some nasty habits that are ruining it for those of us that love our occasional camping completely free of disrespectful humans. Litterbugs. Fire starters. Go away!
    Kimberley Neff

  5. I’m a 59 yr old who has been camping since I was 7. I was brought up with the saying ” Leave the area BETTER than how you found it!”
    Do we all remember the commercial with the Native American Indian with a tear in his eye when he saw all the trash laying around!
    PLEASE PICK UP YOUR TRASH.

  6. Great job on this article Kyle and Olivia! So many responses are just a bunch of bitching and blaming.
    My motto is “ ONCE IT HITS THE GROUND, ITS EVERYONES “. Let’s focus more on PICKING UP SOMETHING AND ADDING IT TO OUR OWN TRASH, EVERYTIME WE STOP AND GET OUT OF OUR RIG.
    I know it looks overwhelming but if we all did that, think what’s difference it could make.
    We can’t change the people that do this unless we become “DEXTER”.

  7. I was recently camped on Nat.forest land in central Wash. St. And hauled out an empty 5 gal. Water jug and a broken folding table. By the way the ranger stations have dumpsters and allow free drop-offs for anything you haul out, And give you a big thanks.
    Thom, Vancouver WA.

  8. Same in mountains of California.. disgusting beyond words.. our lakes are trashed and human waste and toilet paper surround our lakes,..dirty disposable diapers, hypodermic needles, tons of broken beer bottles..etc.. rude, aggressive trashy campers and day use people.. setting up encampments along shorelines, building large campfires, illegal, in our tinder dry forests.. crapping on the single track hiking trails, poopy toilet paper everywhere..Have been threatened with violence when asking these human scum to please pickup their trash.. what has happened to humanity.. close it all down

  9. So sad that some people are not willing to do the right things, and ruins it for many that understand and follow proper camping ettiquette. Carry in carry out.

  10. Good, its about time. I drove for Pink Jeep 20 YEARS AGO and this was going on, I saw it all. People are Pigs, tell them to stay home and Trash their own yard!!

  11. Those of us who grew up in the 70’s remember the national campaign of “Give a Hoot dont pollute ” and yes , the native American man crying from seeing so much trash.
    We were taught about ecology and preserving nature throughout the land.
    The commercials were put together in conjunction with state and federal government, as well as environmental groups collectively.
    The problem we face now is , young people have not been indoctrinated to see nature as having value.

    As a matter of fact, the word environmentalist has become synonymous with being from the other side .
    Unfortunately the idea of conservation is looked at as an idealistic attitude of people who are trying to take away someone else’s freedom.

    Not picking up your own trash is infringing on all of our freedom!
    If brought it , then take it out with you when you leave..

  12. This was very upsetting to read, but I’m not surprised at the same time. I think this comes down to upbringing. A$$holes raise little a$$holes and this is the result. There obviously needs to be policies in place and stiff penalties to prevent this behavior. Thank you A$$holes!!

  13. People are really piss after last winter…Down here in the Tonto national forest the locals are fighting back…. People are smashing out the rv’s, campers and vehicle’s windshields that trash the place and/or stay past either 14 day limit .. also sealing their stuff when they are gone during the day… or late at night… They say trash their stuff cuz they are sick of cleaning up after them… some people stayed 5 months …drug addicts

  14. This infuriates me! How can people be such pigs! I just spent 6 weeks up in the Adirondack mountain preserve camping and kayaking hiking. Cleaned up 7 sites.
    Went to 2 national forest areas in vermont which were pretty clean except 2 BEER CANS in the fire ring.
    I grew up tent camping. In 4H and my dad was a about leader!

    Clean up after yourselves people.

    Also I think if the forest rangers did give you a pent it might help. They can then fine and arrest any violators!

  15. I am a retired senior and regularly camp in the high Sierras. One spot I particularly like is an old hunters camp. I like it because of the large natural fire pit with Rick reflector and tables made of stumps and timber. I regularly clean up after messy people when I go there, usually burning up their poopy toilet paper and food trash. I’ll end up packing mine and their trash out with me and dropping it off at the Big Meadow campsite trash bins. I took a friend up with me a few weeks ago to show him this area and found total carnage.. Some ignorant person left graffitti everywhere, burned the table benches and one of the tables even though there was old down wood within 100 feet. It’s criminal what people are doing. I wasn’t prepared that day to clean up after anyone, so I had to leave it that way…

  16. This is not as new as people think. I was a national park ranger in Yosemite in 1990 and 1991 and i was disgusted by people then. I remember one guy indignant when i stopped him from cutting down a tree in the campground. “It’s only one tree.” was his reply. I told him we had 4 million visitors per year, so that would be 4 million trees per year. Part of a general rangers day was picking up the cans, bottles and other trash thrown on the ground by visitors. People have always been jerks who think they can do whatever they want. The problem is that there are so many more people. When i was born the population of the U.S. Was around 139 million. Now it’s 330 million!
    I spend 6 months a year dispersed camping and am always dismayed by all the trash i find from other campers. I can’t clean it up and pack it out as no place to bring that much. If i started bringing that many bags of trash to Walmart, then Walmart will close to overnights. As many have already. On BLM land on the Rio Grande river this last spring not only was there trash everywhere, including old tv’s brought out and shot to pieces and left right on the river bank, but i had people in the next campsite apparently trying to shoot fish tailing in the river. Semi auto fire ripping the surface of the water. I had fish tailing in the river in front of me which is why i presume that.
    So now places where i loved to disperse camp are being shut down because too many people are scum. In a perfect world these people would be the ones to catch Covid and die! With 7.4 billion people overpopulation who needs these trash people?

  17. Lagunitas. Small lakes in Northern New Mexico. Went in 1948
    with my family. Lakes utterly pristine. Now water is polluted with coliform bacteria from RV black water dumping. This is an area accessible only by a FS road for many miles…still slobs come with their RV’s and ruin them.

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