Squatter numbers drop in the forest
SUMMIT COUNTY ” For years, forest officials have been grappling with long-term campers in the woods.
So-called squatters are blamed for increasing the risk of fires, damaging natural resources and leaving behind piles of garbage and human waste.
A couple of years ago, for example, rangers and volunteers hauled truckloads of trash from squatter sites, including mattresses and miscellaneous pieces of furniture.
Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton says the Forest Service has been more strictly enforcing camping regulations.
“I believe we’ve made substantial progress in addressing inappropriate, extended camping,” Newton said. “The level of activity has dropped. “We support peoples’ interest in recreation, but living on the national forest is not OK.”
The Forest Service has worked especially closely with local ski resorts.
“They’ve let their employees know that it’s not appropriate to live on the national forest,” he said.
Summit County Undersheriff Derek Woodman said there are still some problems areas, such a spot called Keystone Gulch.
“It certainly has improved but by no stretch of the imagination has it been eliminated,” Woodman said. “We’re seeing more and more seasonal workers taking this as an opportunity to live for free in the woods. It’s not so much the historic unemployed or day-laborer style of squatter anymore.”
“I know for a fact that one of the sports shops in Frisco has employees living in the woods,” Woodman said, adding that the owner doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem.
The potential for fire is one concern, he said, explaining that a small wildfire last summer was most likely ignited at a squatter’s camp. Of more concern to Woodman are the health hazards associated with unauthorized camping, including trash pits and the lack of bathrooms.
The squatters are also becoming more clever as far as hiding their sites, Woodman said.
“Some of them are pretty sophisticated and concealed,” Woodman said.
Forest Service camping regulations allow people the chance to camp for up to 14 days in any national forest. But some people who camp on public lands for extended periods say it’s their right to spend as much time as they like on the national forests, and they claim they are good stewards of the land.
“Dispersed camping works at low levels of use, but when it increases, you have sanitation issues,” said Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer for the Dillon Ranger District. “People like dispersed camping ” they like to let their dogs run unleashed and shoot their guns.”
Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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