Monday, May 25, 2009

Public campgrounds

I do day hikes, not backpacking. When I hike, even locally, I like to car camp near my hiking area. I enjoy the camping and often hike the next day also or until I need to return home. When I go to areas further away, such as Yellowstone NP or Utah, I much rather camp than stay in a motel most of the time and it is much cheaper. I've seen a lot of public campgrounds, mostly in the Western U.S., built and maintained by the Park Service, Forest Service, and BLM. Campgrounds, built or reconstructed in the last 25 years, often seem to be to be designed by people who have never camped in that they are not designed in ways most campers want. I'm thinking about privacy, ability to park close to campsite, room to park, shade, and arrangement of tables, fire pits, etc. I do realize that the responsible agency never has enough money, must compromise among multiple requirements, such as resource conservation and safety, and often needs to consider tent campers, large RV users, and pickup campers. Obviously differing requirements make it difficult to come up with campgrounds that please everyone especially budget offices and conservation needs. Still, I see some campgrounds that I wonder what the agency was thinking when the campground was designed. I also see recently constructed campgrounds that have few users even when surrounding ones are full.

For me, one of the greatest irritations is lack of privacy and any barrier between sites. Of course some areas simply don't have natural barriers, the area has scant vegetation and is mostly flat. On the other hand, in many FS campgrounds, much of the underbrush and trees are removed. I know that larger RVs need more room to maneuver forcing brush removal. And unsafe trees need to be removed lest they land on someones campsite and cause injuries and lawsuits. Still, I really wish the agency would attempt to retain trees and understory when possible and utilize natural barriers, such as rocks, to separate campsites. There is a FS campground in north Idaho that was rebuilt a few years ago. This area is heavily used on summer weekends and I would expect to see the newer campground more heavily used with its updated toilets, etc. However, the campground was virtually clearcut, no shade, no privacy among sites, and no sound deadening from the nearby highway. Whenever I've gone by, the campground has been nearly empty.

Another annoying issue is placing campsites and particularly parking too close together. I understand the desire to have a compact campground retaining as much natural habitat as possible. Also, most people want to be close to facilities and compactness is cheaper than building more toilets and water and garbage stations. Still, if sites and parking are too close, most people won't use the site or campground if they have a choice. Many campground have tent camping sections with the parking being a parking lot and campsites off a short trail some feet away. I don't see these sites used a lot. Yes, people are lazy but if you aren't backpacking, you probably don't want to carry all your gear that far from your car. Then there is also the issue of food, stoves, and food waste. Nearly everyone who has camped in areas frequented by bears will want to place the food, cooking equipment, and garbage in the car, making for a lot of trips. Also most people like to be able to see their car in a public campground.

Double campsites are common in some campgrounds. I know a lot of campers travel in small groups and like double sites but making the whole campground into double sites? I stayed at a BLM campground in Wyoming configured as all double sites. The campground was about 1/3 full but the only sites occupied by 2 vehicles were fairly obviously being used by the RV and vehicle, not 2 campers. The parking area for most of the sites was simply too small for a large RV and towed vehicle or towing vehicle. The parking areas were also too narrow to easily fit most camper's vehicles and allow easy access.

There are other issues such as permanent fire pits which are situated wrong for common wind directions, parking spaces which are too short for no obvious reason, and tent pads which are uneven or noticeably slanted. Often I wonder, was anyone thinking about how these sites will be used or just following a checkoff list? I don't mean to be overly critical, I use public campgrounds and often like them and certainly prefer them to all the private campgrounds I've seen. Still, a little bit more thought would have helped.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Expanding wildlife ranges

Since I've been hiking, some wildlife species have expanded their ranges; more have retracted or become far less common throughout their range. I wish all range expansion was of native animals to the region but some non-native North American animals have been introduced for hunting.

The most publicized example is the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone area and Idaho. I've seen Yellowstone wolves while hiking several times and heard wolves and seen tracks in the Lolo Pass area of Idaho. I'm pleased with the spread of wolves in the west although I'm aware that not everyone is so pleased especially local ranchers. I graduated with a degree in biology from Idaho State University in Pocatello and remember persistent rumors of wolves in the Yellowstone area when I was there 35 years ago. In one case I heard directly from the participants who were biology graduate students. They had gone cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and saw what they thought was a wolf. In the same area they found tracks in snow larger than coyote tracks. Of course other animals than a wild wolf could have made these tracks. A pet wolf or dog or escaped wolf/dog/coyote mix could have made these tracks. And, the tracks may have been enlarged by melting and/or made by a very large coyote. It is certain that even if wolves did move through the area after local extirpation, they did not establish a permanent breeding population before reintroduction. Still it is pleasant to think some wolves may have added their genes to the packs without human intervention.

Speaking of Yellowstone Park, mountain goats can now often be seen in the northeast area on and around Mt. Barronette. Mountain goats were introduced to the Absaroka and Gallatin mountains in the past, they are not native to the Yellowstone area. I hope they do not cause the same problems as the introduced mountain goats have caused in the Olympic Mountains, particularly destruction of alpine vegetation.

On my recent trip to the Methow area, I saw turkeys along the road a few times. These are also non-native animals, introduced for hunting. I'm not aware of any problems yet from turkey introductions but I know non-native introductions of other species have caused serious problems including extinction of native populations.

Growing up in north Idaho, I do not remember seeing Stellar's blue jays in local rural areas. Sometime in the 1980s Stellar's blue jays expanded into the small towns and rural areas. I know Stellar's blue jays were in north Idaho before then, the Lewis and Clark expedition clearly describes them. Did they expand their range into areas near people or did they move back into areas they had previously lived in but were pushed out?