Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee has responded to concerns from the public about increasingly strict enforcement of campsite use on the national forest, and particularly on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Some of the campsites involved have been in continuous use for many years, and even for generations, McKee told the BoCC on Monday.
In a letter sent to the GMUG forest supervisor last week, McKee said, "As mentioned in the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region website under dispersed camping, the paragraph indicates a general rule of a 100-yard limit from any road. There is no information indicating a person cannot camp 100 yards or farther from a main road.
"As I am sure you are aware, there are many areas on the Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre forests where dispersed camping has been enjoyed for several generations by local citizens and visitors alike. A large number of these dispersed sites are beyond the 100-yard limit. Recently I have been informed that campers are being contacted and warned about violating this general rule."
McKee told the county commissioners on Monday that some of the sites are "where people have been camping forever." The sites are not designated as either for camping or no camping, he added.
McKee's letter continued, "After discussing this with Delta County Commissioner Doug Atchley and hearing of similar complaints, I felt compelled to state my concerns about enforcing this general rule or restricting the use of campsites that have been used for many years without interference from forest managers. These sites look and feel like campsites and the majority of campers using these sites are fully contained and do not want to utilize a fee campground as they are seeking a less crowded environment.
"Shutting down these dispersed sites will force more campers into smaller and smaller areas just as the use of our national forests is attracting larger crowds every year."
Commissioner Doug Atchley observed the issue could become acute with hunting season beginning very soon.
McKee's letter advises, "Just as restricting travel on many trails and roads has been unpopular, strictly enforcing the 100-yard rule or eliminating well-established campsites will also be met with displeasure. Confining people into smaller areas will increase the need for more law enforcement intervention further stressing the limited amount of resources available."
Atchley noted many of the sites referred to are on the Uncompahgre Plateau. "My concern is that even though they are in Montrose County, the access is through Delta County and so we will become involved."
McKee's letter to the GMUG supervisor concluded, "Thank you for your commitment to protecting our forest while insuring that everyone has an opportunity to enjoy our public lands."
Two fatal accidents occurred in Delta County within a two-day span last week.
Casey Gillenwater, 25, of Delta was killed the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 13, in a single-vehicle rollover on Highway 133 outside of Hotchkiss.