The San Juan National Forest is a huge chunk of public property, covering nearly two million acres – almost 3,000 square miles, touching on 10 different counties in the western part of the state. You may well be familiar with it – if you ever caught a ride on the Durango and Silverton Railroad, you've passed through a section of that forest. Needless to say, it's not a small player in terms of public forest lands.
Now comes the news that Forest Service officials have found themselves in that uncomfortable position of having to cut back services due to budget slashing. In 2006, the Service was handed $2.5 million to handle recreation needs in the forest. By 2018, officials say they'll have only about $1.7 million for the same job – despite increased demands by the public for recreation. If the cuts weren't bad enough in themselves, Forest Service folk say they're already behind the eight-ball to the tune of $3 million in deferred maintenance.
So what gets hacked? Count on campgrounds to shut down, trails to go bye-bye, and other services that the recreating public depends on to shrink down substantially. You may not be too concerned, figuring your recreational travels won't take you to the San Juan, but hang on, if it's happening there, you can be sure that cutbacks will come to a National Forest near you.
That's right, there's plenty of camping to be done in National Forests, even without setting tire in a developed campground. Dispersed camping, as it's called, simply puts you away from other RVers, and more in touch with the land.
Dispersed camping is defined by Uncle Sam as: "Camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground," and for the most part, that also means "At no charge," and "With few crowds." Of course, you'll be doing primitive camping--no water, terlits, or garbage dumpsters. Can you handle that?
The fact that it's free doesn't mean there are no strings attached. Here are some guidelines that will make Uncle's stewards of the forest a lot happier if you observe them:
Try and camp on bare soil to preserve grass and plant populations.
Stay a mile away from established campgrounds and 200 feet from streams.
While meadows are lovely, park your rig on the edge--rather than in the middle--so that others can appreciate a pristine scene.
ALWAYS observe fire restrictions and observe safe campfire practices. If you stay in an area where others have had fires before, use their fire rings if possible. Don't cut live (or even standing dead) trees or plants. Find deadwood or bring your own.
Pack out your trash. Be a good neighbor and dump your holding tanks ONLY at proper dump stations.
Check with Forest Service officials to make sure you don't boondock in a closed area.
While you may not be able to do much about budget cuts, at this point, camping in the National Forests is still firmly in place.