Bighorn Mountain Coalition Troubleshoots Dispersed Camping
The issue of campers overstaying the 14-day limit in Bighorn National Forest has been a standing topic for some time. And National Forest Recreation Program Manager Dave Mckee said it’s high time that can of worms is opened.
Mckee addressed the subject of dispersed camping at a meeting of the Bighorn Mountain Coalition yesterday.
The coalition functions as a steering committee for the Bighorn National Forest and consists of representatives from Sheridan, Johnson, Washakie, and Big Horn counties. In January, the coalition appointed a citizens group to focus on dispersed camping.
According to Bighorn National Forest rules, camping in any area is limited to 14 days at the same location. After 14 days, campers must move at least five air miles and not return to the original site for 14 days.
Dispersed camping, Mckee explained, is a key part of the forest’s management plan and a leading reason people choose to live here.
“Can you find a place to camp on Friday night when you go up the mountain?” he asked the group.
Most people’s experience, Mckee stated, is that the options are limited. More often than not, an empty trailer occupies every feasible campsite.
“Like most things, 99 percent of us are law abiding. We spend all of our time chasing the 1 percent around,” Mckee said regarding noncompliance with the length of stay rule,
Nevertheless, he gets a lot of calls about the issue.
“When I walk the campgrounds,” he said, “I bet you a beer the first question I get is, ‘What about all the trailers?'”
Mckee said he has also heard consistent criticism from tourists about the prevalence of trailers in scenic viewsheds.
Sheridan County Commissioner Mike Nickel described some ideas the citizens group had come up with, including developing more parking and implementing a sticker program.
Nickel said the sticker program idea has almost unanimous support. The group envisions a program created through state legislation, similar to snowmobile stickers, requiring purchase of a sticker to help pay for resource damages and other expenses related to managing dispersed camping.
Jay Stender, a member of the citizens group, said it was a huge step to simply address this issue.
“Of the three meetings we’ve had, we’ve had excellent participation from constituents, and they are very engaged,” he said
“Standing still is not an option for this program,” Mckee concluded. “Not everything we do is going to be popular, but I think the general consensus is we have to make improvements.”
Bighorn Forest Supervisor Andrew Johnson thanked the coalition for their work on the issue.
“We knew that this was a difficult issue to solve,” Johnson said. “We’re running out of room. We knew there were no easy solutions. We needed all the help we could get, and there’s no better place than in the community.”