From Colorado to Oregon, Arizona to Maine, illegal dumps threaten free camping in U.S. forests with fire hazards, toxic refuse, and human waste contamination. As more dispersed camping areas are trashed by these campers, could your favorite campsite be next?
From Coast To Coast, Illegal Dumps Threaten Free Camping On Public Lands
Free camping in national forests is a popular choice for outdoor lovers who want to escape the rigid rules of organized campgrounds. From RVers to tent campers, anyone can utilize America’s national forest service lands that allow free, dispersed camping for up to 14 days. Most will practice good free camping ethics and pack out everything they brought into the woods. The vast majority leaves in the designated time limit.
However in forests, on the fringes of mountain towns like Flagstaff, Arizona and Sisters, Oregon, a new type of visitor calls these forests “home”. They’re staying longer, leaving heaps of trash, and putting free camping at risk. A wildfire in Nederland Colorado last summer proved just how serious the problem is. Two illegal campers with an out-of-control campfire caused a 600-acre fire that burned eight homes just outside of town.
This video shows exactly how these illegal dumps threaten free camping in U.S. forests.
Mounds of trash and illegal camping near the mountain town of Sisters, Oregon has reached epic proportions. Last month the Sisters Ranger District closed a popular free camping area on the outskirts of town. Camping is banned from now through April 2019. However visitors can use the area in daytime hours.
If you’re thinking of enjoying some free camping near Durango, Colorado, look out for closures there too. “People are going up there, camping all over the forest and making a mess of things,” said District Ranger Matt Janowiak in a statement to the Durango Herald. “And it’s gotten worse the last couple years.” Free camping in the San Juan Forest is off-limits in several places. Homeless encampments, illegal piles of trash, and fire-risk are the main reasons why camping is prohibited.
Trash, refuse, and fire threaten forests
“They have come to this common land that we all share and left behind their garbage. Who are they to think that is their right and privilege?” said Willamette National Forest spokesperson Jude McHugh in a statement to Portland’s media outlet KGW.com.
A huge trash pile left behind at Detroit Lake in Willamette National Forest last summer was the cause of McHugh’s anger.
Illegal long-term campsites are also trashing the Coconino National Forest outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. According to statistics given to the Arizona Daily Sun Newspaper, in 2016, rangers gave 23 warnings, four incident reports, and three mandatory citations to people using the forest for residential use or overstaying the 14 day limit. In 2015 the Forest Service issued 96 warnings, 44 incident reports, and 12 mandatory citations for those violations, the Sun reported.
The problem is worse than ever in many places. According to the New York Times, “A 2015 survey of 290 law enforcement officers for the Forest Service found that officers in the Rocky Mountain West and Southwest encountered long-term campers most often. About half of the officers said the number of these long-term campers was on the rise. Only 2 percent said it had declined. (The rest said the number had either largely held steady or fluctuated.)”
Other than closing these free dispersed camping areas, nobody seems to have an answer to the problem. “It’s a problem that’s bigger than the National Forest Service,” said Oscar Martinez, forest ranger for the Pikes Peak Ranger District in a statement to the The Colorado Springs Gazette.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
This is terrible. I’ve been camping at campsites and disperse camping since the 1950s. How these people are treating the forests has become sacrilege. What is left our forests is a sacred place on the planet earth.. People who know the forests know that forest being sacred goes back many years since and before the dawn of man.
We must respect ourselves as we respect our forests and respect our forests as we respect ourselves. These people who trash our forest are not only disrespecting the forest but also other animals and lifeforms on the planet earth including humans.
Mike Beaulieu says
People who leave garbage and dumps in areas that are not designed for such do not really have the spirit of what camping is about. To me they are low life who jump at every opportunity to save a dollar even if it means spoiling the nature around them.
These are the type of people that probably have never worked for a living and have no respect for other’s property either. They would live like this, like they live in government housing. And the rest of us pay the costs for the few losers. Really is getting old.
There is a segment of campers that do this everywhere they go, dispersed camping or modern campground. Even at resort type campgrounds it’s rare for me not to pickup some type of garbage while setting up my site. I hate seeing this type of behavior anywhere but it is truly unforgivable in a national forest.
The campers are less of a problem than the people just dumping garbage in the forest. I used to work on the Mount Hood National Forest, and we would find the entire contents of an apartment dumped at the end of a logging road. A slumlord needs to clean out an apartment after an eviction, its a cheap way of disposing of garbage. We would also run onto mobile meth lab dumps, Stolen cars that were stripped and abandoned, Unwanted pets (if they survived). Its hard to believe the level of scum that abuses the forests like this.
J.T. Brown says
It will only get worse!
Where I live, in Northern Idaho, if you’re a resident you can go to the dump, or one of the several small areas dumps, 7 days a week at NO COST. Yet there is still trash areas where people dump in the forest! Many people don’t bother to recycle or even separate for recycling.
When I lived in California it was like they charged you just to look at the dump station! They charged you to recycle most everything or you had to make many stops to take this or that to the different sites that you couldn’t take to the dump. They’ve talked about having to do a transfer station as our dump is filling too fast, but there are concerns that the forest will become nothing more than one big dump as the desert did where I used to live in California. Yes, people do care, but way more don’t! That is the problem.
William White says
We have been full-time RVers for 16 years and spend about 25% of our time boomdocking in nearly every state. The litter abuse is very rarely from “campers”. It is from the homeless, the youth that work in the illegal marijuana trade (Pacific Northwest), and the illegal aliens. We spent two weeks at a county RV park near San Diego and learned from the Rangers their problems with homeless overstaying the two week limit. It is most difficult to evict them due to the “socially correct – fairness to all” laws. When I was growing up we called these encampments, Hobo Camps.
Many people live in their homes this way. If they own their problem. If they rent landlord evicted and has the problem of cleaning up. This is not a problem with our natural resources but life values.
We have a home in Payson, Arizona. Illegal dumping is a huge problem in the surrounding forest. Trash, trash, and more trash. Everywhere in the forest. And more of it polluting the streams, rivers, lakes. Killing the fish, etc. There are constant articles in the local newspaper about it. People are just pigs today, and have no respect. They just leave it all behind. They start fires. Holiday weekends are the worst. The locals go in and try to clean the mess up afterwards. And then these low lifes are mad when these areas are closed to camping. No amount of public service awareness seems to make any difference whatsoever.
If I recall the fire at Nederland was itinerants camping on on private land.
Rene Agredano - The Full Timing Nomad says
Yes, they were, but the campsite was in an unmarked area bordering USFS land.
I’m currently in a campground near the naval observatory just west of flagstaff and it is the first time I have seen this filth. I’m not comfortable at all. I’ve been full time for 6 months and have been pretty lucky so far. Vehicle driving by at 4am this morning. I’m going to the casino.
G E M says
This is more than just a “problem” in terms of the environmental damage being done. It is a situation that can be downright deadly for residents, livestock, and wildlife.
As a resident of one of the areas cited in this article as having been torched by transient illegal campers, it looks to me like there are very limited options, I meet with the Forest Service several times every year and they report that the problem is steadily getting worse.
My state currently has 11 major wildfires burning and the majority are likely human-caused.
The days of free dispersed camping are likely to go the way of the dodo bird, in my view.
The Forest Service and BLM have extremely limited budgets (ironically, most goes to fire fighting) and just don’t have the staff to police dispersed and illegal camping. To my mind, the only thing the government can do is to universally require fees/permits and to restrict where and under what conditions you may set up camp.
That is too bad for those of us who follow the rules (I’m an RVer, too) but it seems that nothing short of such limits will protect the lives and property of those of us who live near public lands.
Seen it all before. For years we cleaned up after people who didn’t seem to care, I wish i could see them now so i could tell them that they were the cause of us having to pay. But honestly…..it wouldn’t matter, they didn’t care then and they wouldn’t care now. After all these years i’m tired. Make them pay a fee and get it over and done with. Its better than talking till your blue in the face. I’ll pay the fee and have a clean site. Some one will get paid to clean it up.
Tommy Attkisson says
You may be correct, but you are an optimist. The way I foresee this is we will pay for a campsite, and it will still be a trashpile. Unfortunately, there are not very many things the government does well, aside from taking money.
We are all reading this and counting the value of land, trees, and campgrounds higher than that of people. Yes we are. Be honest. Be even MORE honest, it’s REALLY about us and our need for campgrounds. They are causing OUR campgrounds to be closed. WE and our needs are more important than theirs.
When we devalue people, they devalue themselves.
When they devalue themselves, they devalue everything.
It’s been a problem since people were created, but the numbers of the devalued are growing larger every year.
Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, Homelessness are just a few symptoms of people who feel lost and without value. Those kinds of messes are left behind by people who have given up and are disengaged from life other than survival. The mess is a big fu to the world because they feel life has fd them.
What do you do in your life to devalue people? None of us are innocent. It can’t be fixed with a day’s work at a soup kitchen or a couple dollars thrown down. Loving, Respecting, and Caring for ALL people, regardless of who they are, what they do or have done, where they are from, what they look like, what state of array or disarray, how clean or dirty or broken or bloody or smelly, is the answer. Not easy, never impossible, it’s a way of life and it needs to be taught. We might never get it perfect, but we should never stop trying.