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Following the Rules in U.S. Forests?
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Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Following the Rules in U.S. Forests? on 12/24/2012 00:58:05 MST Print View

OP Edit:

I asked this question so I could get an idea of what's expected. Many brilliant posts have shown me the previously unknown errors in ignoring rules, even with good intentions. I'll be thinking a lot more carefully when I'm in the woods, so consider the outdoors free of one more offender.

Here's the OP, for reference:

Here's my confession:

My travel-mates and I are all college students. We practice Leave-No-Trace camping practices to the letter, and sleep in hammocks with no visible footprint where we camp. We don't often cook, just boiling water when we do, and we only light fires at campgrounds. We avoid trampling anything, we don't bushwhack, we don't hunt or operate motor vehicles, we obey trailblazes, and we are especially careful about vegetation in alpine environments.

As student leaders, we promote all these practices at our college and we lead student groups for trail maintenance locally. I, myself, an am environmental science major about to graduate. I've served internships at forest estuaries along the coast of Massachusetts and I'm leading my college's Outdoors Club. Conservation, suffice to say, is my life.

However, all of us, collectively, have occasionally thumbed our noses at regulations that prohibit camping if we have substantiated reason to exclude ourselves from the rule. This has included stealth-camping on farms during a bike tour, stealth-camping in interesting places like Fort Knox, NH, and camping on some lesser-known summits in the White Mountains. We also camp in areas that are prohibited when the hiking season is "over" for the vast majority of the population. We routinely camp in local parks after dark when we aren't bothering anyone. The rules, as we see them, aim to give the right to law enforcement to remove individuals who abuse shelters, trails, and parks. Realistically, we see the rules as a deterrent for drug dealing, reckless fire practices, litter, and squatting.

How in the wrong are we? Is there wiggle room here or should we reform? I am looking for information, not to assert that we are correct.

I have spoken to a lot of recreational managers and park rangers locally about this before, and have yet to run into an official who condemned our activities, such as they are. This may have incorrectly given us a little too much confidence in being the "exception" to a rule made for snowmobilers and grilling families of four.

Please, educate us!

Edited by mdilthey on 12/28/2012 19:09:01 MST.

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
rules on 12/24/2012 07:55:48 MST Print View

So in other words you follow the rules but don't follow the rules. I rewrite the rules from time to time to suit me best also :-)

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
Re: rules on 12/24/2012 09:02:24 MST Print View

I think we all break the rules from time to time, because most all of them are arbitrary. Case in point: any specific date after which hiking/camping is prohibited. Can you arguably say that you're "breaking the rules" if you go out the day after that date, if conditions allow for it? And who's to say that "stealth camping" away from designated sites on public lands is necessarily wrong? If you're 12 miles from a trailhead, and all the designated sites are occupied, calling you a "rule breaker" would be a hard case.

It all comes down to situation, I think. If the situation in which you are warrants some "bootlegging," and said bootlegging won't go against LNT/environmentalist principles, then I think your decision should be respected.

But, of course, I am not the King of the Forests, so... I may be dead wrong.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Theoretically speaking on 12/24/2012 09:36:38 MST Print View

A little stealth camp once in awhile if necessary - I'm not too worried about it - but realize there's usually a reason why restrictions exist (probably due to overuse in the 1970's). Plus the potential of being busted in heavily patrolled or fee areas takes away from potential enjoyment (in the Park system, the Grand Canyon corridors are heavily patrolled and one will likely get a ticket for any attempted stealth).

Edited by hknewman on 12/24/2012 09:39:06 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Following the Rules in U.S. Forests? on 12/24/2012 11:08:07 MST Print View

It is a moral/ethical conundrum that only you can resolve. Where will you draw the line?

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Following the Rules in U.S. Forests? on 12/24/2012 11:09:04 MST Print View

A couple of things come into play here that you have to be very careful about in the sense of slippery slopes.
The first is the idea of "no harm, no foul" as it were. In other words, the idea that if you are not causing the kind of damage that the rules were put in place to prevent, then you can break the rules.
The second is the idea that you, as the conscientious expert, can safely do these things where the masses can't.
Both have some validity, but both can lead to trouble, in a couple of ways. Firstly you are starting down a path that leads you to more and greater disregard for rules and regulations that are in most case both well intentioned and necessary. In addition you run a larger risk in that others less knowledgeable and less well intentioned may emulate your behavior. I call this the larger risk because I think it is much larger. there is a very big difference between a careful out-of-place camper and a careless one in terms of environmental damage (or in the case of the stealth farm camping, damage to another person's property).

You say conservation is your life. But are you willing to make the hard commitments that conservation may entail? If the protection of an environment requires that it be closed to all public use, would you abide by that rule, and deny yourself the pleasure that you might get from visiting it, even though you believed that you possessed that skill and care to visit the area without risk to that environment?
Principles matter. And a hard line is sometimes required to preserve a principle.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Re on 12/24/2012 11:25:19 MST Print View

See, these all follow my general assumptions. Another forum member (who will go unnamed) was so offended by the fact that I was not concerned about VT's 2500ft limit on camping because it's midwinter, he deleted all previous advice in the thread and condemned me. I got called a "noob grommet."

I was surprised. I figured I had to be in the majority when it came to bending things slightly. I'm glad I'm not betraying basic principles. And honestly, I'm always erring on the side of caution- hardly a rebel.

Edited by mdilthey on 12/24/2012 11:28:20 MST.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Paul on 12/24/2012 11:30:04 MST Print View

Paul: your philosophies are well-received. I will be doing some introspection.

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Following the Rules in U.S. Forests? on 12/24/2012 14:08:56 MST Print View

I mean it is only an ecological protection area on one of VT's most popular mountains..

Camping is permitted only in shelters, lodges, the Hump Brook
Tenting Area and the designated primitive camping area.

Shelters and
lodges are supervised by the GMC from May to October; fee charged;
2-night limit. Open fires are permitted only in tent platform fire rings.
There are no wood stoves in shelters. Developed camping facilities
are available mid May-Columbus Day at Little River State Park (3444
Little River Road, Waterbury, VT 05676, (802) 244-7103.

Primitive camping is allowed below 2,500 feet elevation outside the
Natural Areas and research area along the Burrows Trail at least 100
feet from streams, 200 feet from trails and property lines and 1,000 feet
from traveled roads, in accordance with Primitive Camping regulations
and Leave No Trace principles. Please visit"

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Jake on 12/24/2012 14:20:26 MST Print View

Thanks for the e-mail for the VT state parks, Jake. I'm getting some advice from them. I appreciate your fervor here and in my other thread, but if there was a way you could offer information about the rules and contacts for more info WITHOUT insulting me or calling me names, I'd appreciate that a lot more.

I am not "that guy," unless by "that guy" you mean the camper who cares enough to seek advice from people who know better than him before going on a trip.

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Following the Rules in U.S. Forests? on 12/24/2012 14:28:38 MST Print View

"We practice Leave-No-Trace camping practices to the letter"

Does not equal

"However, all of us, collectively, have occasionally thumbed our noses at regulations that prohibit camping if we have substantiated reason to exclude ourselves from the rule."

you say you avoid vegetation in alpine areas yet you have to walk off trail at least 100' to get to a legal camping spot off trail.. do you fly? also getting 100' off trail on CH is going to be quite difficult. also using sub-alpine trees with snow all over them will be pretty difficult with a hammock.


Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Jake, it's over. on 12/24/2012 14:38:46 MST Print View

Jake, I don't plan to walk 100' off trail in an alpine zone. I also do not ever plan to tie up a hammock on sub-alpine trees. When I said "We like the summit for sunrises" in another thread, I was anecdotally referencing a great night I had in the white mountains where we slept on bare rock. That isn't my 'plan.'

Obviously, with the conditions present on this mountain, I won't be near the summit. It would be unsafe, first off, and unusable for our style of camping. If you're under some misconception that I'm going to aggressively set up camp above 2,500 by any means necessary, you are mistaken.

This is getting old- I use this forum for information, not fights. Goodbye, Jake. :)

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Why the Negatives? on 12/24/2012 14:43:45 MST Print View

"However, all of us, collectively, have occasionally thumbed our noses at regulations that prohibit camping if we have substantiated reason to exclude ourselves from the rule. This has included stealth-camping on farms during a bike tour, stealth-camping in interesting places like Fort Knox, NH, and camping on some lesser-known summits in the White Mountains. "


Rules are there for reasons. Having said that, heck, even the most sensitive areas can likely accommodate one or three careful hikers such as yourself. So why the negatives against rule breakers?

I think it's like forming a line. If just one or two cut in line, the effect on everyone else is close to nil. But those people will still fume because they too could have cut in line but chose to cooperate for the good of all. But the line cutters thought only of themselves.

So yes, you got the enjoyment of having the place all to yourself by camping where you weren't supposed to. But you see, we ALL want to do similar but we don't for the sake of the environment (or whatever the reason for the laws) -- and we don't appreciate law breakers / line jumpers. Not sure if I am getting my point across... it's not OK just because you (or any one person) wouldn't do any actual damage.

My own take: I will follow the rules... unless it's some sort of emergency... in which case I will use good judgment and good care. BUT, I won't break a rule for my own enjoyment. I hope you won't do it anymore either. I am guessing just the fact you posted... something is gnawing at your conscience already... Anyway, food for thought.

Edited by ben2world on 12/24/2012 14:48:36 MST.

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Jake, it's over. on 12/24/2012 14:44:14 MST Print View

"Assume we camp very close to the summit, since we love sunrises."

doesn't sound like an anecdote to me... but keep digging that hole you've got started.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Yep! I was wrong! on 12/24/2012 14:49:01 MST Print View

Hah, let me go ahead and make this as clear as I can:

My initial observations of the mountain, the experience of winter camping, and the things I said regarding both were INCORRECT.

Thanks to this forum, I have new information that will lead me to have a safer time, for me and the mountain.

I am still keen on camping with a view... we'll see how close to the top we can go, safely.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Re: Ben 2 World on 12/24/2012 15:09:26 MST Print View

Ben 2 World, I agree with you to a point.

Here's my philosophy; it's all about gaining a realistic understanding of the context of rules. I can hardly claim to be an expert, or even a journeyman in this regard.

However, this site holds some relevance:

Since it is a legal offense to shower naked, I'm sure Jake will be reforming his hygiene habits.. I cannot resist a good laugh!

Let's apply this to camping: In the U.S, I would say the tourists and family campers outweigh the UL backpacking and LNT enthusiasts heavily. Camping in large national parks is definitely an American past-time, and with that comes great American habits like fire, guns, snowmobiles, RV's, wood-chopping, noise, and excessive drinking. Because of that, you need rules.

Ok, then we get to the next layer of rules; conservation policies are usually more serious than rules that can be perenially bent, like camping seasons as someone else mentioned. Alpine Zone restrictions are new, scientifically, hinging mostly on research done in the Adirondacks by the ADK:

I have received an education in alpine zone conservation from a representative of the ADK and the High Peaks Information Center through my college's outreach to local experts, so I'm aware of the specific species and their unique needs above treeline in the Eastern United States. I'm not an expert, but avoiding trampling and protecting sensitive species with care are intrinsic to my experience at the top of every summit. I have done trail maintenance and conservation in these unique environments. Camel's Hump has 10 acres of Alpine Tundra, and is one of only two places in VT that have it. However, the nature of Alpine Tundra in the northeastern U.S. means the growing season lasts a scarce 4-5 months, if that.

In Mid-January, the trails and most of the summit that is not exposed to wind is covered in snowpack, which insulates and protects the dormant alpine vegetation. Snowshoeing is reasonably safe to do at high altitude with no damage to the alpine tundra ecosystem, because the entire ecosystem is basically frozen over. The main risk to these plants is a change in topography through extensive use that lifts and disperses the delicate soil layer- if you're on snowpack, you won't erode the underlying soil.

Too long? Tundra ecosystems are very fragile during the summer, and relatively stable during the winter.

So, if I do make the decision to camp over 2,500, preserving this ecosystem will be paramount and I will continue to use education, whenever possible, to mitigate the damage of others. Additionally, while Ben 2 World's principles of encouraging others to break rules hold true as moral codes and values, I would be surprised if we saw another inexperienced hiker on Camel's Hump in midwinter. If somebody who doesn't know how to handle an alpine environment is up there, they will be happily educated by myself and my colleagues. :)

Thanks again for all this great information!

Edited by mdilthey on 12/24/2012 15:12:32 MST.

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Re: Ben 2 World on 12/24/2012 15:34:54 MST Print View

White mountains allows camping above tree line once the snowpack has reached 2' i'm not sure if VT has got there yet. i'd say that would be the standard. I have major doubts that you will find suitable camping areas for 5 people very high up CH.

Inspector on typical CH trail (i think this is coming up the south side)

i'm not sure what you consider "new". my old white mountain guide from '92 has a whole section on alpine and subalpine preservation. between tundra plants and stunted trees.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Following the Rules in U.S. Forests? on 12/24/2012 15:44:08 MST Print View

I can honestly say that I don't care about what is legal and not. I realize that most laws are there for a good reason and I use that as a guide. If I get in trouble, it's my problem and not yours.

When hiking, my concern is that I don't cause significant damage to the environment or leave a noticeable trace of me being there. A lot of regulations are geared towards backpackers camping in highly used areas. I don't have a problem with knocking over a very small dead tree for dry wood even though it's illegal, although I wouldn't do that at a well used camp area. I might build a fire above the maximum elevation if there happens to be plenty of vegetation and dry wood around and I won't build a fire below the maximum elevation if there happens to scarce vegetation. I pay the fee for a fishing license because the funding is well needed, but if I forget my license or can't find it I will fish anyways. I understand that many people follow the law no matter what. If you find someone doing something illegal, don't scold them for doing something illegal. Scold them if they are doing something destructive or irresponsible.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

New on 12/24/2012 15:49:04 MST Print View

New, in this case, refers to the work in the 1970's when they started using non-native Kentucky Bluegrass to rebuild the delicate topsoil in the Alpine Tundra zone across the northeast. I spoke extensively one of the doctoral graduate students, now employed full-time by the ADK as a lecturer and researcher. I can probably find her business card if you want a contact; I do a LOT of research work and I meet a lot of experts, so names sometimes escape me.

The policy in the White Mountains mirrors exactly what I'm talking about in regards to snowpack, which should be an indication to you that I know what I'm talking about. Since the VT policies don't reflect the same principle, it's correct to assume that the rules are not as all-encompassing. That doesn't change the fact that it's safe to be over 2,500 feet during the winter when there's an insulating layer of snowfall.

So, when I say i'll use my judgement to make a good decision, I mean it! I am a conservationist, after all ;D

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Re: Justin on 12/24/2012 15:54:30 MST Print View

Justin Baker capitulates pretty well what I'm trying to say, here. Thanks Justin.