Rabbit Valley Recreation: The Dangers of Some Ruining it For All

Owl333’s comment here reminded me of the recent news stories about the BLM changing policies in Rabbit Valley, Colorado due to bad recreationist behavior.  I like how the author of this op-ed in the Grand Junction Sentinel, Jim Cagney, a retired BLMer,  characterized it as the need for an upgraded land ethic. a few excerpts:

The recent BLM proposal for revised management of the Rabbit Valley entails the construction of new campgrounds, with a prohibition on dispersed camping once the campgrounds are completed. Some people like to stay at campgrounds, but not me. I don’t want a requirement to pay to for a site that entails enduring other people’s raucous behavior, generators, music and lights when I’ve always been able to pick out my own spot, and use it for free. I never camp in the Rabbit Valley because it’s so close to home, but I enjoy dispersed camping, so it’s sad to see yet another area getting closed. Regardless, I’ll probably have to live with those new rules, because they’re a sign of the times.

Long years ago, when I first started working for the Bureau of Land Management, a veteran warden from the Wyoming Fish & Game offered me some profound insight. He said the freedom to utilize natural resources is divisible by the number of people attempting to use those resources. If I were the only person hunting, all the rules associated with modern game management would be pointless.


Meanwhile, increasing use and a lack of land-use ethic, associated with the more remote dispersed camping I prefer, carries a nasty progression these days. The landscape is dotted with big fire rings full of ash, broken glass and half burned garbage. Wishing to avoid the soot, trash, and ring of toilet paper on the perimeter, the next group builds another campsite nearby, creating a new route if necessary. Route proliferation causes erosion, loss of wildlife habitat, and degradation of legally protected cultural sites. Soil disturbance in desert environments causes dust-on-snow issues that reduce our water supply. No doubt the BLM is acting on the premise that outdoor recreation is a core economic driver for the Grand Valley, so we can’t afford to let our key attractions deteriorate.

I’m with Cagney on the preference for dispersed camping, and the hope that the behavior of some doesn’t ruin it for the rest of us. There’s also concern about the environmental impacts of the new recreation economy, including the carbon emissions from folks driving out to recreate. But who would want to try to keep people recreating on our public lands? And should people pay something for dispersed camping?

3 thoughts on “Rabbit Valley Recreation: The Dangers of Some Ruining it For All”

  1. I spent hundreds of hours camping and recreating in the Rabbit Valley area BEFORE the establishment of the McCinnis Canyon NRA. The NRA management plan closed over half of the existing dispersed campsites. More than half if you have a RV. The results were predicteable.

    Is BLM late in proposing a update to a plan that so obviously failed to meet the growing popularity of camping? Yes, but I don’t blame them. They had bigger fish to fry.

    Bigger fish in the form of a huge influx of mountain bike use and camping outside nearby Fruita and a equally big increase in the day use area off Monument Road (in Grand Junction). Ditto Bangs Canyon. And a required RMP amendment to boot.

    Failing to adequately provide for dispersed camping is a common mistake, And when you close half of the existing campsites you need to plan for that. At BRC we used to say “Camping is a Force of Nature.” Everyone does it. It has to be actively managed

    I have full confidence that the Grand Junction BLM will develop a plan that meets needs and reduces impacts. Those guys are pros.

  2. Sharon, you ask “should people pay something for dispersed camping?” To that I say a resounding “NO.” The whole point of dispersed camping is that you are on public land without asking for or receiving any facilities or services beyond the fact of public ownership. BLM and USFS both get appropriated funding for recreation management, and we the public should get something in return for that. At a minimum we should be able to visit and use undeveloped areas so long as we are in compliance with local resource protection rules.
    I’m with you on preferring dispersed camping for it’s privacy and solitude. Being free is great but not the only reason I choose it by any means. They can build all the “improved” camping facilities they like, it will only drive away people like me, into more and more remote and pristine places. What they call “improvements” would only degrade my experience. Campground campers and dispersed campers are different cohorts of public land visitors, it’s futile to try and convert one into the other. In my experience, most (not all) dispersed campers do not leave trash in their wake, and for those who do very often the next occupant of that site picks it up. I know I have personally cleaned up hundreds of dispersed sites, but have found hundreds more that did not need that. There are many management tools available to put some boundaries around dispersed camping without banning it altogether. A ban just moves the problems around, it doesn’t solve them.

  3. There are also campsites that are damaged just because they are popular (scenic, accessible, good fishing). Regardless of how clean or careful the users are, such sites can only take so much before there has to be some effort to close and/or restore them (I’ve seen both). I wouldn’t mind paying for an annual federal backcountry camping license (like a state fishing license) as a mitigation fee to help that happen or to otherwise manage use levels.


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