Return to Second Wind

Few And Far Between


North of Trout Lake, WA

Campgrounds are getting few and far between in Washington state, here in late October. I've spent most of the afternoon traveling the long narrow forest roads from Battle Ground to the flanks of Mt. Adams, and every place I've come to has been closed and gated for the season.

BD gave me a long list of potential sites. All closed. It's a trail of tears and disappointment, I'm tellin' ya.

The weather is perfect. Mid 60s, clear to partly cloudy. Quite a change from the sopping wet and bedraggled Pacific coast I left a few days ago. I was planning to stop as soon as possible and get outside to enjoy the sunshine. I skirted a number of large reservoirs - Merwin, Yale, Swift - on my way up into the Pinchot National Forest.

"No Camping." "Get Lost." "This Means You." More or less like that. That's the impression, anyway. Not enough campers to suitably enrich the concessionaires, I guess. But I wasn't the only RV trolling disconsolately down the roads.

Middle Falls CG on FR 90 was the only place I found unlocked out of ten or so campsites between Lake Merwin and Mt. Adams. By that time I had altitude fever, and passed it by. For a short while I had the giddy feeling I was getting above timberline, but the stubby trees turned out to be second or third growth. The roads I can take the Behemoth over don't go up that far. Finally, as it was getting dark, I found a dirt turnoff beside a small stream, about 14 miles north of Trout Lake. Nobody else around. Quiet. Ideal.

Time was, at least where I used to go in Colorado, when National Forest campgrounds were left open year round for fishermen and solitary campers like myself. There was no gate. You could go in with snow on the ground and have the place largely to yourself, save the occasional scavenging squawking crow.

That was before somebody decided parks and campgrounds ought to be treated as a "business".

I keep running into that really bad idea. Back in Torquay Bay, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I was toting a sack and wandering the campground looking fruitlessly for a dumpster when the concessionaire drove by on the way to collect fees. "No Dumpster. Pack it in, pack it out," he said. This was in a provincial public campground at the end of a graded road. It had been used steadily for 40 years, one way or another, for fishing and camping, and as a jumping off place for boaters going out to the Broken Island Group.

Not by any means a wilderness setting.

He said 14,000 kayakers came through there every year. And that was the problem, the way he saw it. Durn kayakers only pay 2 bucks a day for parking while they were out paddling around, and then they dumped two weeks of garbage ("Pack it out") in his dumpsters. So he had'em taken out. Then the campers and kayakers started leaving their little sacks in front of his trailer door. Or worse, tossed them down the toilets. Pissed him off no end, but he couldn't see a way to get back at'em without spending all his time there, and he had a store to run up the bay.

I tried to tell him that if he kept on with this attitude, he wasn't going to have a campground to run. Was that the idea? What's next? Take out the toilets? He was collecting fees and providing only a parking place. He admitted it had all been "free", including dumpsters, only a few years back. Back then it was considered a public park, maintained with public funds, for the public to enjoy. Still was, supposedly, only now he was being paid to administer it as a contractor rather than a public employee.

Here's the thing. Public parks aren't supposed to "make money". What they do, and do well, is attract money. Lots of money, all over the area.

Fourteen thousand people a year. On the way across Vancouver Island, and locally in Tofino and Ucluelet, each one of these smartass paddlers probably spends at least - at least - a thousand dollars on gas, groceries, restaurants, souvenirs, and the like. Just getting to that one little piece of beach.

That's 14 million dollars floating around Vancouver Island that could have gone, say, to Baja California, or the San Juans. I'm sure someone would be glad to have it. Kayakers come here to park their cars and paddle off for days or weeks. Mostly they don't even hang around like I did, causing him problems.

Providing a dumpster or two seems the least that he could do.

He wasn't too happy to hear all this, when he was looking for sympathy. Well, he brought it up. I hear this "self-sustaining" crap all the time, and it doesn't hold water. Penny wise and pound foolish. But it's not him to blame. Someone in government went looking for a guy with his attitude to run this park, and they got what they wanted.

In the last decade, governments large and small have come to misconstrue the economic role of public parks. They are money magnets. That's how they pay for themselves. But they can't do their job if they are not open. Lock up the toilets and turn off the water for the winter if necessary. But what would be the marginal cost of leaving the gate open a month or two longer? Or taking it out altogether?

And spare me the ososcary lawyer-talk about liability. We're talking about primitive campgrounds. People can get in there now and run head first into a tree or tear things up if they really want to. Wouldn't an "Enter At Your Own Risk" sign be as good as a gate for that purpose?

All but the poorest people will occasionally uproot themselves and spend what it takes to get out to a bucolic spot and enjoy the public lands. If government is short-sighted and penny-ante enough to close early and cut services and raise fees and generally try to run people off, they have only themselves to blame when local businesses and tax revenues are appropriately impoverished.

Meanwhile, it is a glorious fall in the mountains, and I am at last camped on a feeless flatspot up in the Pinchot National Forest, with Mount Adams looming in the near distance. The price is right, the trees are a riot of red and gold, and in the morning I'll pack my garbage down to Trout Lake, where I'll spend 8 bucks or so for breakfast, and fill up with 30 dollars worth of gas.

Somebody's got to keep the economy going. Even if it is October.


Return to Around the Campfire
Comments are welcome in the rec.outdoors.rv-travel newsgroup,
or to
© Copyright 2003-2008 Bob Giddings, All Rights Reserved
Webspace provided by Arcata Pet Supplies