A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailheads

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mikesplain
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by mikesplain »

For what it's worth, here is VWA's comment letter to LPNF Recreation Officer Jeff Bensen regarding this concessionaire plan. Hopefully the Forest will heed some or all of these suggestions:

Dear Jeff-

It was with a little sadness and a twinge of regret that I read a recent Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) press release detailing the intent to award a Special Use Permit (SUP) for management of all developed Forest recreation facilities to Parks Management Company (PMC). The sadness comes from the realization that private management of public recreation sites seems to have become “the new normal”. The regret relates to a deeper sense of opportunities lost. As you are aware, overuse of the Big Sur coast has become a clear and present danger to the integrity of public lands. The 132,000 acre Soberanes Fire was the result of unmanaged recreation in Garrapata State Park, and has earned infamy as the most expensive suppression effort in history. Indeed, unmanaged and undermanaged recreation in the face of increased visitation presents one the most serious threats to our public lands. Enlisting private management should be seen as a temporary fix at best, and at worst a regressive step that is ultimately harmful to the lands we all seek to protect.
In a perfect world, the agencies would be sufficiently funded to operate their own campgrounds and picnic areas, and to train and deploy field staff to greet visitors, collect fees, impart Leave No Trace education and interpretive services, and provide regulatory enforcement (or at least report violations). Over many years working with public lands partner groups, I’ve lost count of my conversations with talented, highly intelligent young people eager to find meaningful employment with one of our federal land management agencies. Far too many of these individuals have resigned themselves to the private or non-profit sector simply because, as one analogy has it, the NPS/BLM/FWS/USFS career ladder is essentially “missing the bottom rungs”. In a perfect world, seemingly mundane jobs like administering campgrounds and picnic areas would serve as ideal first steps for interns pursuing career paths as agency specialists or recreation/wilderness staff. Visitors would likewise reap the benefits.
Of course, we don’t (yet) live in that world. Nevertheless, keeping in mind a long-term objective of returning Forest Service recreation facilities to Forest Service management, I’d like to offer some comments concerning the Campground SUP Intent to Award, specifically as it relates to the Monterey Ranger District. While a few comments may be outside the scope of the Intent, I think the context is still an important consideration. Speaking as a representative of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA), a California 501c3 non-profit corporation representing nearly a thousand members in 24 US states, to follow are some points that most concern us:
1) Charging fees for all picnic/day-use areas, especially on the Big Sur coast, will invite bad behavior as visitors attempt to park off-site along narrow primary and secondary roads to dodge payment. The most realistic solution is a small number of safe and carefully engineered free parking spots to get these visitors and their vehicles off the highway. Mill Creek, Sand Dollar Beach and Willow Creek would all benefit from a few legitimate off-site day use parking spots cleared of flammable vegetation and safely out of the flow of traffic.
2) Pfeiffer Beach is a unique situation and may eventually require a kiosk or gate limiting entry at the intersection of Highway 1 and Sycamore Canyon Road. Digital signage (“lot full” ,etc.) at this intersection would meanwhile greatly mitigate visitor/resident conflicts and the dangers inherent to driving narrow, winding Sycamore Canyon Road.
3) To preserve public access to public lands, campgrounds situated at trailheads should (wherever possible) be similarly retrofitted with legitimate and free day use parking. This would apply to Arroyo Seco, Bottcher’s Gap, Kirk Creek, Ponderosa, Memorial Park, Escondido and China campgrounds.
4) Moving previously free campgrounds to a fee structure will inevitably result in an increase in dispersed camping. In the interest of sanitation and fire safety, LEO and FPO patrols will need to keep pace, especially along Arroyo Seco-Indians Road (Memorial Park and Escondido campgrounds) and Tassajara Road (White Oak and China campgrounds).
5) Increasing campground fees could likewise fuel an increase in dispersed camping. On the Big Sur coast, where 100% occupancy is the rule, the effects may be negligible; but inland near Arroyo Seco, Nacimiento and Ponderosa campgrounds, similar sanitation / fire safety patrols by qualified LEOs or FPOs will be essential.
6) Prewitt Ridge has become the de-facto overflow camp for unprepared Big Sur coast visitors. The area is being loved to death and littered with trash, toilet paper, and the scars of user-created campfires. Please consider adding this site to the roster of “official” campgrounds and managing it accordingly.
7) Campground hosts should possess at least a basic knowledge of the landscape, current fire restrictions and Leave No Trace principles. Partner groups such as the VWA are ready, willing and able to assist in providing crucial resources like education, maps, hike suggestions and volunteer opportunities, but concessionaire staff tend to be ephemeral and we need agency recognition/recommendation (or at least an introduction) to effectively reach them.
8) PMC should be held to a high standard. The Monterey Ranger District is a world-class destination deserving nothing short of expert management. Overflowing garbage cans, graffiti, lack of potable water, roving bands of habituated raccoons, proliferations of invasive species, dilapidated signage, long-term vehicle parking, etc. should not be tolerated.
9) In an era of agency budget cuts and underfunding, partner groups like the VWA have become the recreation/wilderness division’s boots-on-the-ground in both the front and backcountry. Concessionaires have generally been conducive to providing free campsites for LPNF/VWA trail crew, ranger and youth projects when necessary. Please consider formalizing this relationship, ideally in a way that places the primary burden on the concessionaire and preserves scarce agency recreation funds.
Thanks very much for this opportunity to comment. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns.

Sincerely,
Mike Splain, Executive Director
Ventana Wilderness Alliance
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gfelsman
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by gfelsman »

Jon, Probably not. You should direct your question directly to the Forest Service. In addition to this. More people will be parking outside the gates at San Dollar Beach and other areas as they are no longer honoring passes and the increased fees. Similar things are already happening in Big Sur SP and Julia Pfieffer SP as you probably already know.
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jonl
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by jonl »

Since this "Plan" will be charging $20 per night to camp at Escondido and Memorial Park (aka The Indians) it will most likely be pushing more campers out into the nearby Milpitas area. I would hope that the USFS took this into consideration when they proposed this change? These areas are not as fire-safe as the campgrounds which have been cleared by fire crews.
So, my question is, has the USFS anticipated this and allocated appropriate time, funding and personnel to patrol these more remote areas?
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gfelsman
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by gfelsman »

Here is the Facebook Link from the LPFA.

https://www.facebook.com/LosPadresFores ... f=NEWSFEED

It has a link to a Google Doc. Documenting most of the changes. It is not 100% complete.
rt1
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by rt1 »

I know China Camp campground is on the list but what about parking at the trailhead be included? Will Interagency Passes work?
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gfelsman
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by gfelsman »

A decision memo was issued today.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project ... p=overview

Unfortunately, It is hard to find the actual contract issued.

Fees are going up and the Adventure Pass and other passes become useless.
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mikesplain
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by mikesplain »

This article in the Ventura County Star provides a succinct summary- http://www.vcstar.com/story/news/specia ... /92366172/

Check out the LPNF Schedule of Proposed Actions for comment details- http://www.fs.fed.us/sopa/components/re ... 016-10.pdf

Most importantly, tell your elected officials to properly fund our public lands! Unless & until the USFS & other agencies have enough money to get the job done, privatization will continue to be "the new normal".
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gfelsman
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Re: A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailhea

Post by gfelsman »

Just made it under the wire.
VWA Admin
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A Controversial Plan to Privatize Campgrounds & Trailheads

Post by VWA Admin »

Please see this link from Los Padres Forest Watch.

http://lpfw.org/a-controversial-plan-to ... mpgrounds/

Sorry for the late notice. Today is the last day to provide comments. Please email them to:


Jeff Bensen, Assistant Recreation Officer
Los Padres National Forest
6750 Navigator Way Ste 150
Goleta CA 931117
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