Happy campers don’t mind fee

Stefan Benier, left, of Bozeman, Mont., pulls kitchen duty as his friends chat at their campsite at the North Fruita Desert Campground. The BLM has been charging a fee to camp at the area west of 18 Road near the Bookcliffs, but campers haven’t complained about the $10 nightly fee.

The desert sagebrush casts a blue-green hue, harkening back to the millions of years this area was an ancient sea bed. These days, the nip in the air, combined with warming sunlight and trails that aren’t yet dusty, signal to mountain bikers everywhere that it’s as good as it gets in the North Fruita Desert.

For sure, the secret’s out about this system of fun-to-ride trails at the base of the Bookcliffs. To the south, the sun glints off the top layer of snow on the Uncompahgre Plateau. At campgrounds here, mature juniper trees grow alongside yucca in undulating washes and hills, providing some privacy.

Although the campgrounds were about one-third filled late last week, come the weekend, and most every other weekend through the early summer, expect to see the campgrounds packed with skiers and other outdoor lovers looking to get out from under winter’s grip. A sampling of license plates last week showed campers had traveled from Alaska, Montana and Utah.

This marks the third year the Bureau of Land Management has required camping fees for the popular campground, a decision it reached after years of consideration and public comment. The agency is hesitant to impose fees for camping on public lands, because, as BLM spokesman Chris Joyner said, “the public has already paid for it.”

Campers are charged $10 a night per site. Amenities include water, vault toilets, a fire pit, level spots for camping, cement picnic tables and dedicated space for parking. Because it’s public land, campers also can take advantage of free dispersed camping in the area.

So far, the fee doesn’t seem to have scared off users.

In the past two years, camping fees have generated $46,000 total, with all of the money being used to improve the area, Joyner said.

“I think you’ll be able to see the improvements out there,” he said.

There’s ongoing debate among friends who use public lands about whether camping should be free or come at a charge, said Nick DeNunzio, who was camping and riding the trails Thursday at 18 Road.

DeNunzio, who is from Salt Lake City and is a former BLM worker, said he appreciated the maintained sites, especially because a desert environment can be trashed quickly by careless campers and overuse.

Paying the $10 a night is not a burden, he said.

At another site, a group of five college students, most from Bozeman, Mont., also didn’t flinch at the price to camp.

After a day of riding they seemed more interested in chowing down peanut butter sandwiches and last night’s spaghetti.

“It’s an awesome area,” 23-year-old camper Luke Bromely said. “It’s worth it.”

Joyner said the agency has mostly received positive comments from campers about improvements at 18 Road.


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