Wyoming Counties, Forest Service, Worry About Overuse in The Bighorns
Sheridan County, along with three other counties surrounding the Bighorn Mountains, will be assembling a group of citizens to provide feedback regarding overuse in specific areas of the Bighorns.
The four counties—Sheridan, Johnson, Big Horn, and Washakie—have been collaborating to solve issues in the Bighorn Mountains for years. They each send representatives to the Bighorn Mountain Coalition, which communicates with the U.S. Forest Service regularly to give and receive feedback concerning issues in the mountains.
Recently, the Forest Service has been focused on the issues associated with heavy concentrations of campers in specific areas. These campers often dole heavy use on popular sections of the forest. Dispersed camping— camping outside of designated campsites—only alleviates the issue when the campers are visiting less-travelled sections of the forest.
“The Forest Service came to the coalition and asked them to assist them in putting together a citizens working group to really talk about dispersed camping, lack of camping, dispersing it throughout the mountains, what it does to the roads, vegetation, and what garbage and sanitation issues come with the camping,” Sheridan County Administrative Director Reneé Obermueller said.
Obermueller said that the issue has been on the Forest Service’s radar for years.
“I think what’s happened is the popularity of the Bighorns has become known, not only to our residents, but surrounding counties,” Obermueller said.
According to a PowerPoint presentation provided by Sheridan Travel and Tourism in August, the Sheridan visitor’s center receives more than 100,000 guests per year.
Sheridan Travel and Tourism has also directed its efforts to encourage dispersed camping.
“It’s been on my radar for years,” Shawn Parker, the director of travel and tourism, said. “I, personally, am a huge user of the campsites and trails. We’re up on the mountain several times a week, and I see what the impact can be in places like Sibley, and Tongue River Canyon’s another really good example.”
Parker said that his department tailors their marketing to whatever the Forest Service needs.
“Every year in the spring or late winter, I try and reach out to the Forest Service and discuss what their recreation numbers look like for the prior year in an effort to target our marketing efforts for the mountains into areas where, frankly, they can sustain it,” Parker said. “We’re trying to alleviate some of the pressure on areas like Dead Swede or Sibley by marketing and showing other parts of the mountain that may not get as much visitation and just sort of spread it out and push people to where the Forest Service would like to see them go.”
Obermueller said that, if the plan goes right, the new group will have 16 members—four from each county. She said she is interested to see what input the group has.
“There’s a balance,” Obermueller said. “There’s a happy balance and a compromise, I think, to maintain the beauty and still allow the public to use it.”
Applications to be a member of the group closed on Jan. 4. After members are notified of their selection, they will begin holding meetings to come up with solutions to this problem.