Plans outlined for closed campgrounds
By Greg Seubert
Crandon, Wis. – There may be an end in sight to a 2015 decision to temporarily close several federal campgrounds in northern Wisconsin.
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest officials closed 11 campgrounds that year to reduce costs: Lake Three, Mineral Lake and Stockfarm Bridge in Ashland County; Horseshoe Lake in Bayfield County; Brule River, Sevenmile Lake and Windsor Dam in Forest County; Laurel Lake in Oneida County; Smith Rapids in Price County; and Kathryn Lake and North Twin Lake in Taylor County.
Two of those campgrounds – Horseshoe Lake and Laurel Lake – have since reopened, but the rest remain closed.
“When we started this analysis in 2015, we made a temporary decision to reduce the services at 11 percent of our recreation sites,” Tim Vetter, the forest’s recreation and lands program manager said Oct. 29 in Crandon during the first of six open houses to unveil the forest’s latest recreation proposal.
“That was strictly an economic exercise where we looked at the funding available and what we could be providing on the ground,” Vetter said. “That kind of really motivated us to dig deeper and really look at not just the economics, but the social values that our sites have for the public.”
The campgrounds are part of the forest’s 193 developed recreation sites spread throughout Ashland, Bayfield, Florence, Forest, Langlade, Oconto, Oneida, Price, Sawyer, Taylor and Vilas counties.
The forest’s ongoing Recreation Site Analysis calls for two of the closed campgrounds – Smith Rapids and Stockfarm Bridge – to reopen and the others to be converted to general forest area. That means they would be open to the public for dispersed camping.
Stockfarm Bridge was a small, eight-site campground on the East Fork of the Chippewa River southwest of Glidden. Plans call for constructing a new visitor information kiosk and recruiting a campground host.
Smith Rapids Campground is on the South Fork of the Flambeau River east of Park Falls. Plans call for decommissioning five of the campground’s 11 sites and to convert three of them into a parking area for horse trailers. The campground’s equestrian trail would also be rerouted and an earthen ramp would be created to help riders get on their horses.
Vetter said the proposal to reopen those two campgrounds is based on comments the forest received last year.
“We realize we cannot continue to maintain those sites at their current capacity,” Vetter said. “We’re proposing at 22 of those sites to simply allow those areas to revert back to general forest by removing the infrastructure. We haven’t seen any major deterioration of infrastructure that would cause us concern.
“We want to make sure folks understand that access isn’t going to be denied,” he said. “We’re not going to be putting gates up on facilities or boulders on the road. It’s really just the removal of the infrastructure so that area can be used for free.”
Camping will eventually be allowed in the former campgrounds, according to Vetter.
“There are some general regulations with dispersed camping in terms of stay limits and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s just like any general forest area. If there’s somebody camping there, they can stay for 21 days before moving to the next spot. These general forest areas would fall under that dispersed camping umbrella. Once the infrastructure is removed, the intent of those conversions is there’s not a need for maintenance, so we can focus our resources on the sites we do want to maintain.”
The U.S. Forest Service is not interested in selling the former campgrounds, according to Vetter.
“The agency really doesn’t sell property,” he said. “There are cases where there’s a parcel that somebody’s offering to us that would be of a higher benefit to the public and we might have an isolated parcel and we might enter into an exchange agreement. In general, these sites are going to remain in Forest Service ownership and will be open to the public as any other area of the forest is.”
Online comments that forest officials recently received have asked that some of the closed campgrounds – including Sevenmile Lake, Brule River and North Twin Lake – be reopened.
“That’s exactly the dialogue we want to have,” Vetter said. “We want to hear that people want a site open, but more importantly, we want to hear why that specific site’s important to them.”
The public had an opportunity last year to give forest officials their opinions on recreation sites
“The website didn’t have specific proposals,” Vetter said. “It was asking people where they recreate. We took information from that effort a year ago and that’s really incorporated into what we’re proposing today.”
Forest officials heard from the public three years ago after the campgrounds were shut down.
“There was some general understanding around the economics,” Vetter said. “It was kind of a quick, we-have-to-do-this thing. We certainly did not want to do it, but it allowed us to provide higher levels of operation maintenance at the sites we did want to keep open. That was really an economic exercise and since then, this process has allowed us to have the broader conversation about what we need to do on a permanent basis.
“That exercise to temporarily close was really just looking at the economics,” he said. “What we’ve done since then is look at how they contribute to the communities we serve and the value that people get from those facilities. Our goal through this round of public engagement whether it’s an open house like this or through the website is to see if there’s anything we’ve missed or if there are any ideas out there that we haven’t thought of as well.”
Greg Seubert covers sports for the Waupaca County Post, a Multi-Media Channels publication in Waupaca.