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Fee free camping has its costs

There is no such thing as a free lunch, so the saying goes, and likewise no such thing as free camping; something visitors and recreators in Middle Park would do well to remember.

Grand County is a camping mecca with abundant options for all experience levels ranging from highly organized private business accommodations to rugged backcountry wilderness areas. Among the most popular spots for camping in Grand County are the dispersed camping sites along Vasquez Creek, the Church Park area, and the extensive network of Forest Service roads near the Idleglen staging area.

These regions draw campers for numerous reasons; notably camping at dispersed, unimproved campsites carries no nightly fee. Campers can pitch a tent and relax under the stars without breaking the bank but the reality is camping at dispersed sites is not gratis; it requires time and significant taxpayer funds to maintain the beauty of the forest in and around these locations.

In mere moments careless or negligent campers can undo years of hard work and create problems for years to come. Unattended and forgotten fires can and do spark monstrous blazes that decimate the forest. Forgotten and discarded trash attracts bears, making them less fearful of humans and all but ensuring increases in euthanizations as bears come into conflict with future campers.

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When camping in Grand County remember the three core factors that drive up the cost of maintaining dispersed camping areas. First, make sure your campfire is fully extinguished before going to bed or leaving your campsite – this includes short trips away from your camp. Small sparks can create wildfires very quickly.

Second, keep all food locked up. Coolers or other items work well during the day but once the sun goes down you need to get anything edible into a vehicle, or some other bear proof container, and keep the doors locked. Additionally do not take any food into your tent, ever. Two years ago a camper on Vasquez Creek shot and killed a baby bear that was attempting to gain access to a plastic food tub left sitting out on the ground at night.

Finally, pick up your trash. Leave nothing behind but well doused campfire ashes. The bear killed two years ago up Vasquez was drawn to the area because campers regularly leave trash behind, which bears will feed upon.

There are several regulations dispersed campers will want to remember when trekking into the national forests in Grand County.

U.S. Forest Service policy places a 14-day limit on camping in any one location. Violators of the policy can face steep fines and repeat offenders have been banned from using the national forest. Additional regulations relate to unattended campfires and litter.

If you are heading into the woods of Middle Park over the Labor Day weekend, take care to ensure you do not increase the costs of “free” camping for the taxpayers of the nation. And like the popular adage says, take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.


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