Could free RV camping in our national forests and on BLM land be coming to an end?

I’ve been RVing for over 50 years. My first RV – if you could call it that – was a panel van with a sliding side door. Nothing was built in and a mattress occupied most of the floor of the van. Camping in California state parks back then – none with hookups – cost $6 and you could camp (boondock) almost anywhere in the national forests (NF) and on BLM land for free. In fact, you could sleep overnight almost anywhere you could park your RV out of the way, as long as you didn’t become a squatter and behaved yourself.

Times have changed. Now you can’t find even the most primitive of campsites for $6, though free camping is still an option on NF and BLM lands. But even that is changing. The Travel Management Rules (TMR) have changed the process for where and how you can camp on public lands (NF, BLM, etc.) restricting not only on which roads you are permitted to drive your RV but also where you can camp and even how far off the road you have to park.

These designated camping areas are called Dispersed Camping Areas and are shown on Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) for each forest. There is a hefty fine if you are caught camping in a non-approved area. Free use of our public lands (which are owned by all of us as part of our national heritage for recreational purposes among other uses) are now, unfortunately, restricted.

But before you raise your pitchforks and storm the battlements to “take our country back” try to understand the feeling among forest service and BLM personnel (and especially forest supervisors whose job it is to preserve the forests) when you look at these rules from their point of view. Though we might not like to admit it, there are some among us RVers who take no responsibility for the land and its resources that we use for free, scattering trash around campsites, dumping waste tanks onto the ground, leaving smoldering campfires that can flare up causing devastating wildfires, ravaging live plants and trees for firewood, and driving indiscriminately over plants, flowers, and the forest floor with no regard for its fragility.

It is these unthinking – or uncaring – people (I don’t like to even think of them as being part of the mostly responsible community of RVers), that unfortunately become the impression of RVers that others see. And this often implies that RVers (except for those that drive big, flashy rigs and always stay in pricey RV resorts) are just above the homeless in status.

You can help improve this impression – and save free camping – by driving your vehicles – both on and off-road – on approved roads and trails only and by camping only in approved areas. And pick up around your campsite both before you set up camp and before you depart. Whether you left the trash there or not, the impression you leave after cleaning it ALL up will help all RVers when it comes to how much more restriction the National Forest Service and BLM have to impose to preserve the health and beauty of our forests.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing ebooks on Amazon Kindle, and read more of his posts on the Good Sam Blog and on his Gizmos & Gadgets blog on the RV Travel network of blogs. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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