By Bob Difley
If you haven’t yet heard about the Forest Service’s Travel Management Rule (TMR) you soon will. And it could change some critical “dispersed camping” (boondocking) rules for a long time to come.
The writing of this rule has been in the works for years. Each individual forest supervisor has been instructed to define and map every legally constructed road within his district and any not so defined will be declared illegal roads on which motor vehicles will be prohibited. It will also define trails for use by OHVs.
So far so good. We probably wouldn’t want to drive our rigs on bootlegged roads created by 4-wheelers and hunters or those designated for OHVs anyway, choosing those that were built by forest service engineers and substantial enough to handle fire fighting equipment and heavy cattle and logging trucks.
But then it gets a little murky. The rule says you cannot camp any further off the road than one vehicle length, except for those sites that have been designated as “dispersed camping” areas, and which will be included on the forest map. The supervisor designates those areas that will be defined as dispersed camping areas and boondocking will be limited to those areas–no more camping anywhere.
This is where there could be potential conflict. The supervisor, for example, could just designate those areas that can accommodate many RVs, but not authorize single campsites (which are usually the most private and nesty) and might be one of your favorites.
So far the official response to questions has been that all those spots that have been used in the past for boondocking (dispersed camping) will be included as official and legal campsites, but hacking new campsites out of the forest will not be allowed. This is good and if that is the case most of us boondockers will not be affected. But . . . it is still up to the supervisor, and if he/she is more interested in ease of patrolling the forest, he/she could restrict boondockers to group dispersed camping areas and not authorize individual sites.
The plan is still coming together. Some forests have already completed the maps for their forests and they are available at ranger offices or online–you can find the completed Motor Vehicle Use Maps here. I suggest that when you enter any national forest that you stop at the regional ranger office and ask about the TMR, whether it is in effect, and pick up the appropriate map for where you intend to camp–and make sure that dispersed camping areas are defined and located on the map. There is a very good reason to do this–failure to camp in an authorized area can result in a fine of up to $5,000, though this much fine would apply to flagrant violators. But who determines that. Ask questions. And if you find out some valuable and pertinent information, please let me know.
For those who like to wade through government publications, here is the link to the Travel Management Rule when it was authorized. But each individual forest is different, and will have slightly different interpretations of the rule, so again. ask questions.
Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands , Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.