Enjoy our public lands – while there are still some left

Mountain

Sawtooth Mountains

I don’t want to brag about this, but I happen to be part-owner of the finest collection of real estate in the world. My holdings consist of wild and scenic rivers, meandering mountain streams, snow-capped mountains and magical mountain passes, fishing ponds and swimming lakes, miles of grasslands and wildflower covered meadows, acres of desert, and a few scenic seashores thrown in.

In addition, my lands are covered with forests of pine, fir, and spruce, are habitat to hundreds of species of birds and a wildlife spectrum from the lowly vole to the magnificent moose and gruffly grizzly. These lands are laced with hiking and biking trails, scenic drives, whitewater rafting rivers, caves, historic Native American sites, old mines, and thousands of campgrounds.  coconino_NF

I am not the only owner of these lands. You are an owner too. And so is every other American. Together we own some 655 million acres, known as the Public Domain, lands and waters sprinkled handsomely across the 50 states. Gather them all together and you could cover up Alaska and California with land left over.

These lands of ours are managed by people that we pay with our taxes. The responsibility for this management is divided among seven federal agencies that report to the people that we have elected to oversee such things – our congressional representatives.

The Forest Service manages 199 million acres in 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands, consisting of 4,300 campgrounds, 133,000 miles of trails, and 95 wild and scenic Rivers. The National Park Service, the most noticeable of the agencies, manages 80 million acres in 388 parks, including monuments and preserves, 14 National Seashores and Lakeshores, 19 National Recreation Areas, and oodles of historic sites. The Bureau of Land Management oversees 260 million acres – about 1/8 of the country’s land mass – of

The Bureau of Land Management oversees 260 million acres – about 1/8 of the country’s land mass – of wide open spaces, expansive deserts, a few wildernesses and monuments, and 38 more wild and scenic rivers. Then there is the Fish and Wildlife Service that manages 95 million acres—including 542 National Wildlife Refuges, the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation that manages the land around hundreds of reservoirs, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that manages 13 marine sanctuaries. And don’t forget local and regional campgrounds, state forests, and public utility lands.

This Land Is Our Land . . .

The best part is that most of these lands and waters are open to us for our recreational pleasure. We can take driving tours, hike, bicycle, paddle lakes and shorelines, camp, photograph, watch birds and wildlife, rock climb, hunt for rocks and minerals, snooze under a tree, read a book, listen to forest sounds, learn to identify trees, sightsee, star gaze, swim in a lake, fish, tube a river, explore a cave, climb a mountain, hang glide off a mountain (maybe I’ll skip that one), snorkel dive, dune-buggy the dunes, jeep a jeep trail, take a wildflower walk, visit Native American pueblos, or do absolutely nothing at all but enjoy nature’s solitude.

But unlike private recreational options, like Disney Land, the Six Flags amusement parks, and the proliferation of Indian Casinos, our public land recreational areas have not been graced with humongous advertising budgets or retained by high paid public relations firms that tell us where all these terrific places to visit are located.

You have to look for them. You have to exert some energy and do some research to uncover many of those areas that fall below the awareness bar of the big and popular National Parks. It would surprise me if more than a few RVers – an aware segment of the population I admit – could rattle off more than 10% of our 388 national parks, let alone where to find more than a handful of national forest or BLM campgrounds.

Actually, that’s an advantage to me. If everybody knew where Smiling River national forest campground along the beautiful Metolius River near Sisters, Oregon was, I would never find a campsite. If I hadn’t stopped at the ranger station in Show Low on the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona, I might not have found that dispersed campsite on the edge of the rim with a view down over the Tonto National Forest that a ranger told me about. Had I not poured over the map for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, I might not have explored the back road where I found a perfect shady campsite by a babbling mountain stream and a view across a meadow where a doe and two fawns came to feed each evening.

To enjoy the pleasures of our land, do some research, ask questions, and go exploring. If you’re not comfortable with traveling into the vast unknown yet, do it the easy way. Learn to dry camp by staying at established campgrounds without hookups, but with water and a dump station accessible if you mis-calculate your capacities or how long you can go without filling, dumping, or re-charging batteries.  Then explore with your tow vehicle for that perfect camping spot – even if you only stay a couple days – you could become the recipient of a memorable deep forest or open desert experience.

Visit the Forest Service, BLM, or other management agency office for the area you are in and ask questions. Tell the rangers what you would like (near a trail head or boat launch, a small streamside campground, dispersed campsite deep in the forest, etc.). Also ask for trail maps, directions to campgrounds, nearest dump and gasoline stations, wildlife viewing areas, road closures, scenic spots, and a local bird list. You can also search the internet at the forest service website,  or at the Government Recreation Program site, where you can research most federally managed properties. But remember this. When you find that perfect campsite

When you find that perfect campsite remember this – it is very important. There are some politicians today that are trying to take away our lands and distribute them to the states wherein they lie, so the states can do what they want – not what the federal land managers (those people that represent us) want, such as keeping those lands available to us for our enjoyment. And few governors would not attempt to sell off these lands to balance their budget or pay down debt making them look like fiscal heroes to much of their constituents. And if that happens, those lands are gone. Forever. They will not come back.

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