CORONAVIRUS, Forestry, Recreation

ODF closes dispersed camping in state forests

The Gales Creek Overlook in the Tillamook State Forest. File photo: Chas Hundley//Banks Post

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OREGON – While some parks are beginning to open to day use activities in the state, the Oregon Department of Forestry is further restricting activities in forests in their jurisdiction, temporarily halting dispersed camping in state forests, effective Monday, May 11.

In a press release issued on Friday, May 8, the agency said that the new restrictions come during a time when ODF does not have the capacity to keep dispersed camping areas clean. 

“We have strived to continue to allow as much access to Oregon’s state forests as possible while ensuring everyone’s safety, including our staff,” State Forester Peter Daugherty said. “Unfortunately, the current conditions are hazardous to the public and our employees. We appreciate the public’s understanding and look forward to reopening these areas as soon as we can safely do so.”

Campgrounds managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry have been closed since March 23. 

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Dispersed camping areas are generally unimproved rustic sites, and can be as simple as finding a clear spot to pitch a tent in the forest. Typically, there are no restrooms, garbage disposal, and campers are expected to pack everything in and everything out.

But according to the ODF, that’s not happening. 

“Problems with trash and human waste accumulation in these areas have become insurmountable and hazardous for the public and ODF employees,” the agency said. 

The closure is expected to last several weeks while the agency brings in additional resources to clean up, and there is no firm date when dispersed camping will be allowed again. 

While camping is now closed in all forms in state forests, hiking trails and forest roads remain open in state forests, including in the Tillamook State Forest. 

According to the ODF, there are several items visitors should know when using state forests for day use:

— There are no restrooms or garbage disposal sites available. Leave no trace on the landscape, which includes packing out all garbage.

— Human waste must be buried at least 6 inches underground and away from trails, parking areas, bodies of water and any other areas where people commonly gather. 

— Physical distancing still applies in the outdoors. Plan on maintaining a six-foot distance from people outside of your party, and you are encouraged to wear a cloth face covering when interacting with others.  Plan on recreating elsewhere if social distancing is not possible due to crowding.

— Due to restroom closures, you are also strongly encouraged to bring personal hygiene supplies with you, such as hand sanitizer or soap and water.

Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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