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?
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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