Dispersed camping in the Dillon Ranger District offers campers a unique opportunity to stay in more isolated areas of the national forest, outside of developed campgrounds, without necessarily having to travel long distances into the wilderness.
“It allows the public to take part in a free camping experience in a more wilderness-oriented, undeveloped setting,” said Am Fussell, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District project coordinator. “It can also provide an opportunity for solitude and wildlife viewing by accessing areas of the forest that developed campgrounds may not.”
Dispersed camping is allowed in many areas of the White River National Forest, but it comes with increased responsibility.
“A big issue with dispersed camping is finding an appropriate site,” Fussell said. “There are no services, and campers must take care of their own trash and human waste. Campers must also bring their own water.”
Dispersed campers are charged with maintaining or improving the condition of their campsites.
“It requires respect from the person recreating to clean up after themselves, to respect any other campers who may be nearby and to take their own safety into account,” Fussell said.
Improving the user experience
The FDRD recognizes the value of dispersed camping in the national forest. It’s begun a series of projects with the Summit County Seniors group, along with other volunteers, to make popular dispersed camping sites more sustainable for long-term use.
“We’re helping to keep the forests healthy by restoring degraded areas back to their natural environment and helping with reforestation,” said Bonnie Guthrie, Summit County Seniors group liaison.
FDRD’s first dispersed campsite rehabilitation project took place Friday, July 11. Throughout the day, 21 volunteers spent a total of 81 hours taking down illegal campsites that were hurting streamside habitat in the Rock Creek Area near Silverthorne. Volunteers removed glass, trash and ash from campfire rings and dismantled the illegal or unnecessary camp areas.
“We identified all campsites in the areas and only shut down those that were in violation of Forest Service guidelines,” Fussell said. “We also installed signage to encourage people to use the more sustainable sites away from sensitive habitats.”
Volunteers loosened the soil where compaction in illegal or unnecessary campsites would make it difficult for native vegetation to take hold. They used natural materials from around the sites such as logs, stumps and large boulders to naturalize the tent sites. Then they transplanted young native trees, collected seeds and covered the loosened soil from the area to help encourage regrowth, Fussell said. Volunteers also collected five bags of trash in the area.
Guthrie said the work that she and other volunteers accomplished in Rock Creek not only benefited the forest ecosystem, but also made the area more attractive.
Giving back to the forest
The Summit County Seniors group is one of the FDRD’s longest-standing community partners. The seniors group offers hiking opportunities to its members every week. The popularity of these events attracts as many as 400 hikers who use the trails weekly, Guthrie said.
“We felt that we owed these trails some TLC payback,” she said. “So we approached FDRD seven years ago to ask what we could do.”
For the last six years, the seniors group has embarked on many trail projects, including trail maintenance, closures and rehabilitation work. Now the group is undertaking forest-restoration projects.
“Giving back to our mountain trails gives us a sense of accomplishment,” Guthrie said.
Fussell said the partnership with seniors groups has been invaluable to the organization.
“We have the best seniors in Summit County,” Fussell said. “They are fun and vibrant and always bring consistently great numbers to volunteer projects. The seniors have offered support wherever it is needed — not only by giving their time but also through organizing events like the DooWop Denny fundraiser.”
For more information on dispersed camping regulations, visit www.dillonrangerdistrict.com/discamregs.htm or visit or call the Dillon Ranger District Headquarters, (970) 468-5400.