On Nov. 19 the Denver Post reported that the U.S. Forest Service is considering closing hundreds of campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads with bathrooms and other recreation facilities across the country. Officials at 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands have been ordered to complete a recreation-site facility master plan by the end of 2007, after which the agency will decide which facilities to cut from its ever shrinking budget.
That doesn’t mean all those sites will be permanently closed. Instead, the Forest Service is hoping volunteers, civic organizations and private groups will step in to take over operations at some of those campgrounds and picnic areas.
But that idea has a Bitterroot wilderness group concerned about the direction in which such action could lead the agency.
“This is America, and profit motive is the main religion,” says Larry Campbell of Friends of the Bitterroot. “I think there may be some volunteer nonprofit organizations who’d be willing to adopt a campground, but over the long haul those nonprofit groups are going to have to cover their expenses. Who’s going to rise to the top? It’ll be private groups.”
Region One Forest Service officials say they’re sill in the process of developing a draft master plan, and they’re not even hinting at which sites in our area might be on the chopping block. Campbell believes the agency is actually moving toward privatizing recreation sites in much the same way the National Park Service contracts campground, hotel and other services to private concessionaires.
Friends of the Bitterroot members have volunteered on projects like weed pulling on Forest Service trails in the past, so Campbell says he wouldn’t be surprised if the group decided to “adopt” a primitive campground in the Bitterroot for the sake of keeping that facility open and free to the public. But he also doesn’t believe there are many groups or volunteers with the wherewithal to maintain basic amenities like trash collection and sanitary toilets.
“I’m very suspicious that what’s happening serves a purpose other than finding the most efficient ways to keep these campgrounds open,” Campbell says. “We’re close to getting concessionaires running the campgrounds like they do in the national parks. I think that’s where we’re heading.”