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Open the campgrounds

Open the campgrounds Open the campgrounds

Bears aren’t the only thing that have to go in the woods.

A recent drive through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest was disappointing.

The campgrounds in the national forest remain closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The Forest Service never being ones to take half-way measures has gone so far as to have staff take down all the signs marking the entrances to the campgrounds. This begs the question of if the Forest Service plans to open them at all this season, or for that matter in future seasons. Is COVID-19 a handy excuse to make these important tourism destinations in the county quietly disappear?

At the same time work on the long-awaited renovation of the Mondeaux Lodge has also ground to a halt. The Snack Shack which has operated out of a temporary building at the Mondeaux Recreation Area has announced it will not be opening at all this season.

It is unclear as to why the developed campgrounds in the national forest remain closed.

The campgrounds in the forest could be described as “rustic” at best with pit toilets and hand pumps serving sanitary and freshwater needs.

While COVID-19 is a legitimate concern, it is only one of many pathogens that people choosing to “rough it” have to deal with on a routine basis. When up against the laundry list of potentially life-threatening illnesses that can be caused by unsanitary conditions COVID-19 is just part of the crowd. Not to mention the very real threat of having a spider bite your bum while using the facilities in the middle of the night.

Anyone choosing to go camping, specifically those of us who prefer rustic federal campsites, do so because we want to avoid other people. Being left alone while sitting reading a book by a campfire is about as socially isolated as you can get, yet it remains an unallowed activity at federal and state facilities. Meanwhile, private campgrounds, which are notorious for packing people in like sardines, are allowed to reopen with some restrictions.

State and federal agencies have also taken a tunnel-vision approach to public health by eliminating places for people to dispose of garbage and keeping bathrooms — including pit toilet outhouses — closed as a public health measure.

While leave no trace is the best practice when it comes to trash with every Boy or Girl Scout knowing that you should always pack out whatever you packed in, the closure of remote pit toilets is a bit much. Granted, I could follow the advice of my daughter, who is a veteran of many Girl Scout trekking adventures, and bring a trowel with me to set up an impromptu latrine, but I am not quite that far into “roughing it.”

Last week the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest staff in Rhinelander announced that some recreation and dispersed camping areas would be reopened in time for the holiday weekend. They have also announced that reservations for campgrounds will be canceled at least through the middle of June.

What is likely is that the forest service, like the state parks is taking a one-size-fits all blanket approach to managing these facilities under COVID-19. Users of the forest and campgrounds would be better served by state and federal agencies taking a regional approach to address realistic concerns. Unfortunately it appears that public policy regarding the reopening of rustic camping facilities is being made by people whose idea of roughing it is going to a Rodeway Inn instead of the Hilton.

It is time to open the outhouses and restrooms at state and national facilities. It is short-sighted to allow an overabundance of concern over one health hazard to set the stage for potentially worse health hazards.

Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.