The Dillon Ranger District will close unofficial scattered campgrounds in popular areas of Summit County and will post signs at official scattered campgrounds to help visitors understand where they are allowed to camp.
Parking your car or caravan for camping on sites that are not marked with a tent symbol and site number is illegal once designated sites are established. The Forest Service has required campers to use designated sites on Boreas Pass Road since Friday, July 29. Designated sites will be established at Peru Creek on August 26th and at Spruce Creek and McCollough Gulch beginning September 30th.
According to a statement from the US Forest Service, the change will be made to prevent wildfires and allow for better protection of natural resources.
Forest Service guidelines require campgrounds to be built at least 300 feet from the Forest Service Road and at least 100 feet from lakes, streams and trails.
Scattered camping is any camping that takes place on public land and not on developed campgrounds. Camping is free, but there are no bathrooms, running water, or electricity.
White River National Forest public affairs officer David Boyd said because there are very few campgrounds in White River National Forest, scattered camping is popular in Summit County.
“We have seen a significant increase in use throughout the forest, especially in recent years. And because the Dillon Ranger District is closest to the Front Range, it’s the most heavily used,” Boyd said.
Deanna Carew, a Summit County resident for seven years, said she’s seen “outrageous” conditions along the Peru Creek Road due to increased use. Though she doesn’t break up the camp herself, Carew has visited Peru Creek Road to gain access to popular trailheads.
Last summer, Carew was on a drive to the Chihuahua Gulch Trailhead when she saw a white kitchen garbage bag hanging 3 feet off the ground at a scattered location on Peru Creek Road. Carew was concerned because because the bag was so low to the ground, a bear could pick up any odors emanating from the bag and could easily rip it open to get at the food inside.
When a bear finds food at a campsite, Boyd says federal protocol is almost always to euthanize the bear. Bears remember food sources, Boyd said, and have been known to frequent campsites if they find food even once.
As such, the Forest Service encourages campers to store food in their car or use appropriate bear-proof containers.
Boyd also shared that he saw an abundance of trash and litter.
“In legal and illegal campsites scattered around, we often clean them up after a weekend because people leave rubbish,” he said.
Another common problem at scattered campgrounds is the improper disposal and handling of human waste. Carew said she’s heard of toilet paper strewn at scattered campgrounds and she’s seen toilet paper at the edge of forest service trails.
Boyd encourages campers to dispose of their rubbish, especially at scattered campgrounds.
“We’re asking people to think about the campers that are coming after them,” he said. If unpacking isn’t an option, see the White River National Forest Scattered Campgrounds website for information on proper solid waste management.
Carew hopes that designated distributed sites will bring more education, fewer crowds and a higher frequency of Forest Service rangers in the proposed areas.
So what will change an official designation at the scattered campsites?
Designated locations prevent visitors from creating new locations or staying in locations that pose a threat to the forest. Henceforth, the only scattered campsites will be those that have already been created through years of use and strictly adhere to Forest Service guidelines.
There will still be no water, electricity or toilets, but the pitches will be cleaned up and marked accordingly. By winter, Boyd said, the Forest Service will begin officially mapping the sites.
Another advantage is a reduced risk of fire. According to Boyd, many of the future designated sites have “hardened” through years of use, leaving less vegetation and well-established stone fire rings to prevent the spread of flame and embers.
Corey Richardson, the White River National Forest District Recreation Officer, said an equal number of rangers and volunteers will be out to check the sites. However, the designated campsite system will make them more efficient in ensuring the safety of the campers and the forest.
The process of formally designating scattered sites also includes cleaning up scattered campgrounds and remediating sites that do not conform to Forest Service guidelines.
The Youth Forest Steward crew recently conducted a project at Peru Creek, one of the scattered sites selected for designation this summer. According to the Friends of the Dillon Ranger Districts Instagram, the crew cleared illegal rings of fire, repaired compacted soil and planted seeds.
The best guidelines to follow when camping in a remote location are outlined on the White River National Forest distributed camping website at FS.USDA.gov.
The Forest Service also promotes the principles of Leave No Trace, Boyd said. The seven Leave No Trace principles can be found on LNT.org under “Why Leave No Trace?” drop-down menu.