Forest Ranger Shares Tips For Camping

With over 30 years of experience in the National Forest Service serving the South Platte Ranger District in Colorado, Scott Dollus has seen a lot of changes.

The Pike and San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC) encompass over 3 million acres of diverse forest and grasslands in the Rocky Mountains. The South Platte Ranger District serves the area along the South Platte drainage, directly west of the busy Denver urban corridor.  Ranger Dollus serves as the Recreation Planner for the South Platte District.

Pike National Forest near Kenosha Pass shows off its fall colors (Photo by TC Wait)

Our 155 National Forests were created through the Land Revision Act of 1891 in order to protect and manage natural resources for future generations.  Management of these lands by the Forest Service includes everything from conservation to watershed protection to regulating logging, livestock grazing, and mining.

Forest Service Rangers roles have changed substantially over the years.  With many years of contracting budgets and exponentially growing numbers of visitors, Rangers have had to take on many roles to try to best protect and preserve our National Forests.

Daily activities can vary greatly, but often include efforts to better educate the public about the forests and their uses, issuing various use permits (guides and outfitters, special events, special uses, etc), establishing and maintaining trails and motor vehicle routes, patrolling and law enforcement, and maintenance (replacing signs, cleaning up garbage, etc.).

Ranger Dollus says that one of the more recent changes that visitors may notice within the National Forests is the move to restrict dispersed camping to designated sites identified by brown signs with a tent symbol and a number.

There are several reasons behind this:

  1. To try to prevent “migrating” primitive campsites. You have seen them—they start near an access road, then over the years migrate further back into the trees or spread out as people look for “nicer” campsites.
  2. To protect water resources. Everyone likes to camp next to the water.
  3. To control the de-vegetation, erosion, fire potential, trash and human waste that is impacting the forests from human use.  Designated camping sites allow for more efficient use of Forest Rangers to patrol and maintain areas.

When asked what are some of the biggest concerns the National Forests are dealing with currently, Ranger Dollus said again that it varies, but for the Pike forest, one of the big recent concerns are “squatters” who are essentially living in the National Forests.

Other concerns are the build-up of human waste and trash in many areas.  Some dumpsters that were once available had to be removed as there was SO much trash being left piled around the bear-proof dumpsters, that it was becoming a bear attraction.  Unattended fires and recreational shooting without proper safeguards are also issues that they are currently working to find a solution.

When planning a trip to visit a National Forest, Ranger Dollus offers some tips to make your stay more enjoyable.

  • Busy weekends fill up fast! As of now, dispersed camping sites are on a first-come, first-served basis.  Plan ahead for holidays and come with lots of back-up plans.
  • Check with the local Ranger District before your visit. You can learn about camping areas, any burn restrictions, or other attractions that may be interesting for your trip.  There is a lot of information available online, but Ranger Dollus suggests giving a call to the local district as well.
  • Know what is allowed and follow the rules. Recreational shooting, for example, may not be allowed in some places.  If it is allowed, there are rules to follow (safe backstop, at least 150 yards from a trail, road, campsite, or occupied area, not over water, manufactured targets only, etc.)
  • Pack out what you bring in. This includes trash, dog waste, human waste, and food.  Leave the area where you have been in better condition than when you arrived.
  • Report problems to the Forest Supervisor’s Office or the local sheriff first. They will know how to get in touch with the local rangers.

Get out this summer and enjoy one of America’s greatest treasures, our National Forests.  The great outdoors is the reason that we have RVs, and keeping our natural resources protected with responsible use helps ensure that the forests remain wild and available to future generations.

See also: Campground Littered With Garbage, Causes Facilities To Close

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RVing Couple Shares Their Experiences

Marsha Petry and Janet Shown of Buffalo Creek, Colorado are not completely new to RVing, but have recently upgraded and are about to embark on the next chapter of their lives with a new rig.

We have all been there at one time or another, and all had similar struggles with the learning curve, fears, and uncertainties, and what we are needing out of our rig.  Sometimes we find that learning curve more than once!

Marsha and Janet recently agreed to share some of their newbie and not-so-newbie experiences, dreams, and trials that might help others considering taking the RVing plunge.

Camping with a family of large dogs can create space issues! (Photo by Janet Shown)

In the beginning, Marsha and Janet decided to get an RV as a way to extend the camping season and to be able to travel with their dogs—large Leonbergers—and gear.

“We both have always loved outdoors activities—backpacking, camping, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing,” Marsha says. “In the early years when we were dating, each of us took our dog(s) and cared for our own dog(s)—it was fairly simple… but then we started to share our backpacking tent, and that tiny tent got pretty cramped with dogs and people.

We got a bigger tent, which in turn lent itself to more car-camping because the tent was too heavy to pack.  When we moved in together we decided to get more dogs! and car-camping with the large tent became the standard mode.”

Soon they were out camping every weekend, which involved loading and unloading the truck roof racks and setting up the large tent to accommodate their five giant dogs, who were more than happy to track in all sorts of dirt into the tent.  Once September rolled around and snow descended on the mountains, camping trips had to stop.  During one winter, they began to think about the benefits of using a trailer instead of tent camping.

Marsha outlined the benefits of a trailer as:

  • We could have a bed to ourselves! (That didn’t last long but, seriously, that’s what we thought)
  • There’d be a safe place to leave the older dogs who couldn’t hike as much,
  • Our camping gear could be stored in the trailer so that we wouldn’t have to climb and pack/unpack the roof racks every weekend, and
  • Bonus! We could extend our camping season into the fall.

After their first experiences with a trailer, she adds:

  • Finding hotels that would take 3-5 big dogs is/was always a problem. The dogs ALWAYS go on any vacation.
  • For long trips, don’t have to stay in who-knows-what-has-gone-on hotel rooms.
  • The expense is less for many trips.
  • Be able to go spur of the moment without reservations (assuming we stay in National Forest dispersed campground areas).
  • Doubles as a 2nd home if some emergency happens (wildfire etc…).  For example, they stayed at a park for a week during the evacuation of the Lower North Fork Fire in 2012.
Marsha and Janet camping in their first trailer, the Trail Manor 3023 (Photo by Janet Shown)

They found a lightweight, hard-sided pop-up style Trail Manor 3023 trailer that their Ford Ranger truck could haul.  They took the little trailer across the country between California and Maine, and joined the local Trail Manor club to participate in the club outings.

For many years, they used their trailer from spring through fall.  And then, life happened (as it often does) and between family obligations and building a home, any time they had to go camping got consumed with other tasks.

Eventually, Marsha and Janet were able to think about the possibility of retirement ahead.  They were able to reflect on how their lives had changed and came to realize how much they missed their camping trips.  They had given away the first trailer and started looking for a rig that they could use year-round as much as possible.

In the fall of 2018, they found a trailer they wanted, an Outdoors RV Timber Ridge 21FQS, and a Ford F250 tow vehicle.  Marsha and Janet’s “Must Have” features that made this the rig for their next chapter of adventure including a slide-out (must have more room for dogs), heated water storage and insulating for 4-season camping, room to walk on both sides of the bed to avoid crawling over one another and for ease of making the bed, power next to the bed, a large sink/prep area and counter, lots of windows in the sitting area, and a toilet far from the sleeping area.

Marsha and Janet’s second trailer, an Outdoors RV Timber Ridge 21FQS that offers more space and features for their needs. (Photo by Janet Shown)

They also considered some of the “Nice to Have” list items like a microwave, solid surface sink/counter, a toilet that uses main water (not a separate water storage), a cabinet by the back door to hold leashes, wet clothing, gear, and an extra large propane tank.

Marsha and Janet are now looking ahead to traveling with their new rig.  They plan on taking a 3-month trip to Canada as one of their first adventures and spending quality time together with their dogs while traveling around the country catching up with friends they haven’t seen in years.

They would love to try to do extended boondocking with added solar to maybe go for a few weeks or months off-grid.  They have a condo in Arizona and are hoping to snowbird south for the winter months while spending summers camping and possibly campground hosting.  Full-time RVing is a definite maybe—Janet would be eager to try, but Marsha is more reserved about that prospect at the moment.

When asked about the concerns or “unknowns” for planning their RV trips, they shared several that are food for thought.

  1. Getting stuck in the snow (Happened with our old trailer, but we weren’t camping so it wasn’t a huge deal, still… made us think).
  2. The current political climate is increasingly hateful towards lesbians and gays. If that doesn’t change we could be back in danger for our lives camping in back road areas. We don’t plan on going back into the closet but will it be dangerous to be “out”?  Certain regions of the country are scarier than others.
  3. Health issues—As we get older, it is scary to think about being in the backcountry without health resources.
  4. Medications—Currently, we need monthly medical visits which can’t be quickly swapped to a different doctor. Not sure how we’re going to deal with that… fly back to Colorado each month? How else to get medications?
  5. Right now we’ve done at most month-long trips—What if we need “alone time”? How will we get it?
  6. Exercising dogs—We’ve always had a big yard and we will need to find places where the dogs can run and get more exercise. Will that be possible?

In addition, Janet fears not having the technical knowledge and RV handling ability to run things if Marsha is hurt or there is an emergency.  Marsha does most of the techie stuff and driving and Janet knows she needs to be comfortable doing those things but currently is not.

Marsha’s biggest fear is the increasing lack of remote boondocking locations that they enjoy exploring.

“We were always able to find out of the way places for backpacking and tent-camping but more people are now full time RVing, working/living out of cars, and even full-time boondocking.  Twenty or thirty years ago it was rare to see people living in their cars and, when someone did, it was usually a rare, dire circumstance; nowadays, it’s a “thing” to RV full time or live & work out of a car.

Multiple National Forest primitive inexpensive campgrounds are being shut down or locked, and fewer, “suburban”, expensive, crowded campgrounds are being built.  More public land “No Camping” signs go up, forcing campers into expensive private campgrounds.  Will we find out-of-the-way places anymore? Or will every accessible camping area be full?”

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