Frustrated campers leave authorized Missoula campground | Local News | – Missoulian | Gmx Pharm

Mitchell McCullough moved to the authorized campground on Clark Fork Lane in April.

When a spot opened up at the campground this spring, he jumped at an opportunity for safety and security. But due to the recent changes imposed on campers, McCullough plans to go back to sleeping on the road.

“I have to go,” he said on Wednesday morning.

Angry campers like McCullough are slowly seeping out of the campground because new rules are making life harder for the campers who occupy the 40 designated spots there.

“There won’t be 10 people left here,” McCullough predicted.

Campers like McCullough are upset about bans on covering their tents and a regulation requiring campers to keep their belongings within the four fence posts at their sites.

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Ginny Merriam, the city’s communications director, said the restrictions were put in place for safety reasons. The buildings being constructed on site pose fire and building hazards, she explained, and sidewalks littered with personal belongings impede access for emergency responders.

“This is really just a place to camp,” says Merriam, emphasizing the accessibility of the Authorized Camping Site.

But covers provide shade, McCullough argued, and the four posts at each site confine campers to a claustrophobic living space.

“I don’t see why you can’t have something above your tent,” said McCullough, who uses a large blue awning to cover his site.

There is no natural shade over the 40 locations behind the Super Walmart.

“You cook down there,” said Tully Sanem, a camper who erected an elaborate structure using tarps and netting to cover his space.

Sanem is another camper considering leaving the authorized campsite because of the restrictions. He said he understands the rule banning structures that are 10 feet tall, but he still wants to be able to shade his spot.

“A lot of people don’t know what they’re going to do,” Sanem said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Sanem was equally frustrated with the ordinance directing campers to consolidate their sites within their four assigned fence posts. At its location, the posts allow Sanem to operate in a 10ft by 15ft space, but some locations are as small as 8ft by 12ft.

“How can you live within 10 by 15 feet?” Sanem demanded. “I mean, that’s like going to jail.”

For McCullough, the fence post restriction was the last straw that drove him out of the authorized campground.

“I can’t live in an 8 x 12 small area,” he said.

McCullough feels he will be more comfortable outside of the authorized campground. Though he said he had a plan, he acknowledged that living unprotected in Missoula was challenging.

The ever-changing rules at the job site were another factor in McCullough’s decision to leave the company.

McCullough, Sanem and other campers expressed frustration at a lack of transparency and consistency from site management.

Initially, no restrictions were imposed on the structures, it said. Then campers were told they could not use pallets to construct permanent buildings as they posed a fire hazard. After dismantling the permanent structures and using covers to provide shade, they were told to dismantle the tarps and awnings over their sites.

“There are no rules to follow until we do it and break the rules,” McCullough said.

Communication is expected to improve now that a vacancy has been filled for the Site Coordinator position. The three new site coordinators will start in mid-August, according to Merriam.

However, the authorized campsite continues to be plagued by ongoing problems.

The campground lacks running water and electricity, and campers without vehicles depend on donations from community members to access enough water to withstand the rising heat.

The future of the entire site is currently in jeopardy as the program was originally set up with one-time funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The city and county are both considering a new mill levy to fund projects established thanks to ARPA funds.

Despite the challenges at the authorized campground, he has successfully ministered to some members of Missoula’s homeless population.

Former resident Dawna Kluesner lived on the Kim Williams Trail for a year and a half before relocating to the authorized campground. On April 20, she moved into an apartment downtown where she can look out her window at her old camp site near the river.

Kluesner said living at the authorized campground for a few weeks played an important role in helping her provide the stability to secure an apartment.

She described the place as “one big family” but said she doesn’t miss living there.

“There are a lot of really good people here,” she says. “The system just doesn’t work enough.”

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