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Wilderness Management

The USFS has recently completed a new Wilderness Agenda.  This supplements the existing USFS Wilderness Policy.

Also of Interest

Please read the latest news about the removal of Camp Heermance, Shehadi, and Rich.

Although the WMNF is not a National Park, the NPS has collected some interesting information on Backcountry Campsite Management, including the issue of dispersed vs. designated campsites.  Please see the links page for other web sites related to Wilderness management.

New WODC Task Group on Camping Policy

A melding of old and new ideas about camping in Wilderness areas of the Sandwich Range is in the wind, and WODC has formed a group to gather and assess them and make recommendations.

For its entire 108-year history WODC's mission has included attention to camping and conservation in the Sandwich Range.

Since 1984, when the Sandwich Range Wilderness was established as part of the White Mountain National Forest, the Club has sought to help the Forest Service balance accommodation of responsible camping, promotion of "low impact" and "leave no trace" camping practices, and the essential preservation of a true wilderness environment.

The core idea of Wilderness designation is to preserve these areas in their natural state, to make the impact of human use as little noticeable as possible. In practice, this has meant rougher trails, minimum use of signs, and camping amenities only as consistent with the protection of wilderness values.

Thirty-two of the fifty-two miles of trails maintained by WODC are in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. As the number of campers has increased in recent years, the task of managing camping to ensure respect for wilderness has become more challenging here as elsewhere in the White Mountains and throughout the country.  

Seeking to further such goals and to develop consistent rules for all Wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest, a few years ago the Forest Service adopted a (not well-publicized) policy prohibiting camping within 200 feet of all trails in Wilderness except at designated camping sites.

In December 1999, coinciding with the Forest Service's revision of its management plan for WMNF, the WODC Executive Committee established a task group on camping policy to address this issue, consult the membership of the Club, and work closely with the Forest Service in developing, clarifying and implementing its policies.

The camping policy group submitted its first progress report and recommendations to the Executive Committee in February of this year. After discussion and minor revision, the report was endorsed by the Executive Committee and passed on to the Forest Service as a basis for ongoing discussion.

This first report focused on issues including camping on summits where terrain is fragile and easily degraded; ways to promote more responsible camping practices with regard to degradation of land and vegetation and disposal of waste (including human waste); campfires, proximity to trails, designated shelters; and potentially useful new educational efforts WODC could implement to encourage appropriate use of wilderness.

Camp Rich, in particular, was identified as "the best alternative for retention of any of the WODC shelters" within the Wilderness. A redesigned kiosk in the Ferncroft parking area, as well as more modest, unobtrusive posting of educational material at major trailheads like Blueberry Ledges and Diceyıs Mill, were recommended, as well as systematic review of all frequently used campsites.

Club members and others with an interest in these matters and others affecting Wilderness camping are encouraged to contact a member of the task group: John Boettiger, Dick Daniels, John Mersfelder, Howard Nordeen, Judith Reardon and Peter Smart.  The camping policy group's first report may be found below.

John R. Boettiger

Camping Subcommittee Report to WODC Executive Committee

February, 2000

A Camping Subcommittee meeting was held on Thursday, Feb. 10 at 7:15 at the Mersfelders'. Attending were: John Mersfelder, Howard Nordeen, John Boettiger, Dick Daniels, Peter Smart, and Judith Reardon.

There was discussion of recent communications with the Forest Service regarding the state of rules that may prohibit camping on summits and within 200 feet of trails, except at designated sites. Regardless of the final resolution of these issues, the subcommittee concluded that public education on camping issues is of great importance, and should be pursued by the WODC in cooperation with the USFS.

Considerations for public education and management of camping:

1) Most of our trails are within the Sandwich Range Wilderness (32 of 52 miles). 

2) Wilderness is established to preserve these areas in their natural state, and to allow people to experience areas where "the impact of man is substantially unnoticeable." Therefore, trails are rougher, signage is kept to minimum (and without mileages), and camping amenities are provided only when essential for the protection of Wilderness values.

3) Camping opportunities are more available in adjacent non-Wilderness areas, WMNF Campgrounds (such as along the Kanc), and outside the WMNF (Tamworth Camping Area, Pine Knoll Campground, and White Lake State Park). Camping in these locations allows dayhikes in the SRW, without the substantial effects that camping often has on Wilderness.

4) The campgrounds offer picnic tables, firepits, latrines, and even showers. Camping in the SRW involves none of this, just a spot of ground to pitch a tent and sometimes a nearby stream. Designated campsites may have a latrine and/or firepit (such as Camp Rich) in order to minimize damage which can result from dispersing these activities.

5) Camping should be out of sight of the trail, since this enhances the Wilderness experience of hikers and other campers. Pending a clarification of USFS regulations, camping may even be prohibited within 200 feet of all trails in the SRW except at "designated" sites.

6) Encouraging (or forcing) campers to stay 200 feet from the trail may actually cause increased impact as people seek out and use more distant sites. In some cases, impact may be minimized by concentrating use at designated campsites. This is particularly true in places with rough terrain or dense vegetation which are characteristic of the SRW. However, there is concern that designated sites could attract additional overnight use, rather than the intent of concentrating existing use.

7) Campers should follow Leave No Trace practices: no visible ground wear, no new paths, no trash, all trash carried out. The general LNT recommendation is to reuse a previously impacted site that will not be altered by further use, or use a pristine site in a location that won't be reused, thus allowing for natural recovery. Although the latter option is better in theory, it is hard to implement in practice, except by the most experienced campers.

8) Human waste must be buried well away from water (if not packed out). 75 feet would seem a minimum (as required by the State between wells and septic systems) but a greater distance may be appropriate for raw waste and/or ongoing use of a latrine. A latrine may be required in heavily used areas where individual "catholes" are impractical.

9) Camp fires should be kept to an absolute minimum. In addition to the direct impacts of the fire (ashes, charcoal, soot, fire rings, etc.) is the considerable damage often caused by repeated wood-gathering, including trampled vegetation, removal of downed trees, and the cutting of live trees.

10) Summits are generally unsuitable for camping. The terrain is fragile, camping is intrusive, and high use is concentrated within a small area. The committee recommends no camping within 1/4 mile of any summit. The only exception would be for any shelters retained by the USFS, and then only within the shelter itself. Even if summit camping were allowed only within shelters (i.e. no tenting), camp fires, human waste disposal, and the proximity to trails would still be significant problems.

11) The site of Camp Rich, being favorably located 7/10 mile below the summit of Mt. Passaconaway, makes this an acceptable location for camping. The site is somewhat removed from the trail, is supplied with a good spring, and offers practical tenting and waste disposal options. Although structures are not normally retained within Wilderness, this site represents the best alternative for retention of any of the WODC shelters.

While direct responsibility for most of these issues lies with the USFS, the subcommittee felt that the WODC could contribute to appropriate camping practices through a number of educational opportunities:

A) Develop a brochure to be distributed at our kiosks, and perhaps at other trailheads, campgrounds, children's camps, Ranger stations, highway Welcome centers, local stores, libraries, and outdoor groups. We can also suggest that publishers of trail guides and maps include such information in their publications.

B) Disseminate the above information through the WODC Newsletter and website, perhaps under the title of "Planning your trip to the SRW."

C) Develop a small poster or sign providing concise advice on appropriate Wilderness practices for hikers and campers. This should be posted on primary approaches to the SRW such as Squirrel Bridge, Dicey's Mill Trail, and Old Mast Road. There could also be pockets containing the above brochure.

D) Review all frequently used campsites, with consideration for designating or closing specific sites in order to minimize overall impacts. This effort can be based on the considerable campsite inventory already compiled by the USFS and by the 1995 AmeriCorps program. (The later survey includes sketch maps, photographs, and written descriptions of dozens of sites on WODC trails alone.)

On February 17, 2000, this report was accepted by the WODC Executive Committee, which also directed that it be passed on to the Forest Service as a basis for ongoing discussions.


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