Management indifference in the Bighorns

Submitted by Thad Harper
Posted 8/6/20

Dear Editor:

I recently read an online blog from RV Life about unattended RVs on national forest lands. The author was shocked to find this was allowed. Not surprising to me, the national forest …

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Management indifference in the Bighorns


Dear Editor:

I recently read an online blog from RV Life about unattended RVs on national forest lands. The author was shocked to find this was allowed. Not surprising to me, the national forest discussed in this article was Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest.

I have been in Wyoming for a while and remember when the Bighorn National Forest first implemented the 14-day stay order back in the early 1980s. This order was implemented to stop people from hauling their travel trailer up to the forest as soon as the snow melted and parking it in a premium spot next to a stream and leaving the trailer until the snow started flying in the fall. The other issue was with people leaving travel trailers all summer long near Medicine Mountain. This situation was made worse by the horrendous driving conditions on U.S. Highway 14-A.

My wife and I are retired, so we usually go camping during the week when there are less people on the Bighorn forest. But less people does not mean less trailers. During a camping trip this summer we drove past dozens of unoccupied trailers looking for a campsite. After driving for miles, I finally found a previously unused area that was suitable for use as a campsite. I created a new campsite because all existing sites were occupied with trailers, but not with people camping.

Leaving all these unattended trailers on the Bighorn forest has several detrimental consequences to the land and to the public’s camping experience. Much more land is impacted from creating campsites than would be necessary if trailers were taken home when not in use. Even on weekends many of these campsites remain unused, but because unoccupied trailers are there, weekend campers must search for vacant sites or create new ones.

Trailers left on the forest for the entire summer — even if they are moved every 14 days — creates other problems, sanitation being a major one. After the wastewater tanks are full, people either use the forest land as a bathroom or they dump their tanks on the forest and start over. This is a greater occurrence with graywater tanks. If the public was required to take their trailers off the forest when they were not actively camping, they would most likely empty their tanks at an appropriate location before returning to the forest.

This overabundance of unoccupied trailers is also detrimental to the public’s recreation experience. The forest seems more occupied and busier than it actually is with all these empty trailers. The camping experience also becomes more stressful when campers must spend time looking for and hoping they will find an available campsite.

I have talked with many people who go camping only when their 14-day stay is up and they need to move their trailer. I have talked with others who go up the mountain to move their trailer after work on a weekday when more campsites are available. They move their trailer and return home the same evening.

Since the early 1980s, when the 14-day stay limit was first implemented, many changes have occurred. First, the number of people camping has greatly increased. Other changes include U.S. Highway 16, U.S. Highway 14, and most importantly U.S. 14-A have all been upgraded and improved. Another change is the advent of diesel pickup trucks, some with exhaust retarders and other braking improvements. These road improvements and more powerful tow vehicles means that the amount of time it takes to drive up to and down from the Bighorn National Forest is greatly reduced from the early 1980s.

Most national forests do not allow trailers to be stored on forest land when they are not occupied. The issues with increasing use and increasing unoccupied trailers has been growing on the Bighorn National Forest for decades. I feel it is past time for the Bighorn National Forest to stop managing recreation use through indifference. The American public’s land and people’s enjoyment of the forest are being impacted from a lack of attention to this issue. These issues could be resolved if the Bighorn forest’s management simply made a choice, as other national forests have, to resolve them.

Thad Harper



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