Monday, August 06, 2007

Day Use Area, No Overnight Camping

“Day use area only. No overnight camping.” This seems to have become the unofficial mantra of the US Forest Service and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, at least in the West Yellowstone/Madison River areas.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that if camping were indiscriminately allowed everywhere that the littering problem would increase and so would the numbers of campers and tents on all our public lands. I don’t want to have a tent or a trailer every 50 feet or so along the Madison any more than anyone else. But, there has to be some way to fix it so that our public(?) lands are available for our use.

Here’s my problem. I travel a lot to and from music shows throughout the Northwest. Lots of miles, many of them at night after pretty full days. When I get sleepy on the road, I would like to stop and take a nap for a while instead of being a half-awake road hazard. But, since I drive a pickup with a (horrors!) camper on the back, if I stop at any of our “public” facilities, it won’t be long before someone with a badge comes to at least wake me up and move me on my way if not outright cite me for violating the “Day use area only. No overnight camping.” Rule. Maybe, instead of getting into my camper and laying down on my comfortable bed for a couple of hours, I should just lay down on the seat of the pickup (fat chance, with all the crap I have on the seat with me) so that it’s obvious that I’m sleeping, not camping. Or, confine my on-the-road sleeping to daylight hours.

Montana FWP manages many fishing access sites along the rivers and streams in our state. Along the Madison, from West Yellowstone to Ennis, the only one relatively close to the road Where I can legally stop and sleep is at Raynolds Pass Bridge. Why? There are no real differences between any of the FA sites that I looked at. They all maintain a toilet and have parking area and that’s about it. There’s no reason why we can’t stay overnight at the other FASs except that some bureaucrat somewhere decided that no one should. In addition, the Ennis FAS is a FEE CAMPING area and is no different from any of the others along the river. So, if I stop at the Ennis FAS for a few hours, the badges can come make me pay up, even though I wasn’t “camping” overnight. This isn’t right.

I’d like to see the Montana Dept of Fish Wildlife and Parks change the policy at their Fishing Access Sites to allow overnight camping, just like at Raynolds Pass. No fee. We pay enough fees to the state already. Why not? It doesn’t cost anything, except a little white paint to paint out the “Day use area” line on each FAS sign. Then, maybe all the public could use our public lands instead of just those who are there to fish. We all paid for it in one way or another.

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