Backcountry camping: make like a Rainbow (sort of)

Thursday , July 10, 2014 - 5:40 AM

The Rainbow Family may have dispersed, but a big effort is underway to mend the gathering’s impacts to the local landscape. 

U.S. Forest Service officials expect it to take weeks to gather lingering trash, revegetate trails, disperse fire rings, remove waterlines and cover latrines.  Anytime 8,000 people collect in a small area of forestland there’s bound to be an imprint, but the U.S. Forest Service worked with Rainbowers to develop a management to keep those impacts to a minimum. Their efforts even have some takeaways for other backcountry campers to help limit their impacts as well.

Watch watersheds

After surveying the area, U.S. Forest Service officials required the Rainbow Family to camp 100 feet from the main stream running through the gathering site, and 300 feet from any other streams. “We fell back to what’s in our forest plan, which is staying off streams,” said Jeff Schramm, district ranger for the Heber-Kamas Ranger District. “That’s to protect the stream itself and the riparian area.” 

Schramm also noted the forest service “tread lightly” guidelines, which recommend camping at least 200 feet from water, which both helps keep riparian ecosystems in tact and pollutants out of water supplies.

Be fire wise

At the Rainbow Gathering, campers were encouraged to build communal fires instead of several small individual ones to reduce impacts. According to Schramm, they were also required to keep campfires above ground instead of building pits, using rocks for rings. “When they’re done, they will break those up so there won’t be future camp rings in those areas,” he said. The efforts reduce future visual impacts.

In general, backcountry campers are encouraged to keep their campfires at a minimum. According to Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest backcountry use guidelines, “Leave No Trace campers always carry a stove and know when to use it.” Camp stoves don’t create burn scars on the land are are more efficient for cooking. When a campfire is necessary, the U.S. Forest Service recommends finding an existing fire site and burning only dead wood gathered from the forest floor. Cutting trees, including live branches, is illegal. Some areas have fire restrictions, which can be found with a little research on the U.S. Forest Service website.

Fecal matters

Toilet talk may not lend itself to polite conversation, but being cognizant of where are how to go “number two” is vital in the backcountry. Proper waste disposal was one of the biggest education efforts pushed at the Rainbow Gathering. Poor sanitation practices can cause sickness at camp and wreck havoc on watersheds. For small groups, dig small individual “cat holes” six to eight inches deep, do your business, then bury. Make sure to stay out of the buffer zone for streams and water bodies. Pack out toilet paper or burn it in a campfire when appropriate. Larger groups can dig trench toilets with deeper holes that should be covered with a good shovel full of lime or ashes after each use. Once the pit gets full — within five inches of the top — it’s time to cover it with dirt and dig a new one. 

Pack it in, pack it out

Nothing ruins a scenic view like a pile of trash. The “leave no trace” mantra means leaving nothing behind, including food scraps, which can attract wildlife. Campers can help reduce the amount of garbage they need to carry out by reducing the amount of packaging they carry in. When the Rainbow gathering was in full swing, Schamm noted the campers were particularly good with their garbage management. Very little trash was produced considering the thousands of people who had gathered at the site. “I haven’t seen a lot of garbage sacks out there,” he said last week. “They’re bringing food out in containers that don’t result in waste going to the landfill.”  

For more backcountry tips on our local forests, visit the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest website.

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