Newspaper: Camping Out for Life Needs More Controls

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August 18, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor's Note: The following editorial appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff.

Flagstaff, it seems, has a new and growing group of summer visitors.

Our story two Sundays ago uncovered what is likely to be a growing trend as mobile seniors with small, fixed incomes take to the road but opt out of formal campgrounds.

Those who are self-contained (they have their own water, firewood, generators and portable toilets) and who maintain a clean site don't seem to pose much of a threat to the forests.

But there is a reason for formal campgrounds: They prevent a kind of forest sprawl that could convert remote forests into permanent encampments. That would stretch an already thin ranger staff even thinner and essentially convert a public resource to unregulated private use.

Soon, the new off-road rules in the national forest will close many roads and prevent RVers from legally gaining access to vast expanses. But that just means the remaining roads will become more populated with long-term RVers.

This trend seems to be the perfect opportunity to rethink the multi-use mandate for a national forest to recognize long-term housing and lifestyle choices in society. It might start by expanding privately run, semi-primitive campgrounds on Forest Service land that could be oriented for summer-long stays.

Such campgrounds might have minimal services so as not to compete with the KOAs and other commercial campgrounds that don't have access to a national forest setting. But once the new campgrounds are set up — assuming the fees can be held to a minimum — then no residential use of the forest elsewhere should be allowed. Even two weeks now seems a long time to occupy a site, especially if the RV camper is digging pit toilets and scavenging all the downed wood within a radius of several acres.

At some point, the Coconino and Kaibab national forests might want to revisit their buffer zones near settled communities and determine a level of use that recognizes growth pressures but confines it to the type of low-impact campgrounds above. Camping out for life clearly isn't going to go away, and our public lands stewards need to put in place protocols and even facilities to deal with that trend.

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