Camping on the Croix: Introduction to a Defining Debate

October on the St. CroixThis is the first in a series on proposed changes to camping management policies on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a topic of continued interest to me.

The National Park Service released a proposal this week for new camping regulations on the St. Croix River between St. Croix Falls and Stillwater. Presenting several management options, the Park Service also identified its “preferred” choice:

“…[L]imiting tent camping to designated campsites, establishing group size limits, and requiring carry-in, carry-out or onboard toilets. All overnight users would need to be in possession of an annual overnight use pass which would be available free-of-charge.”

When the evalutation and planning process began about eighteen months ago, I submitted a letter advocating management be as liberal as possible (“For the Record,” 11/07/2005). At the time, I stated that as important as the conservation and protection of this beautiful river is to me, it is also important that it remains accessible. Not only because it is the public’s land, but because I feared that increased regulation would mean decreased usage, which would lead to fewer and less-passionate stewards of the riverway.

“To make camping on these public lands cumbersome and confusing through new regulations will discourage many people from visiting, unsure about the legality of camping or simply if they will be able to find a ‘designated campsite’ for a night on the river. I believe this would destroy the spirit of the river and change for the worse the way that people think of it, which will result in a lack of feelings of ownership and consequent disrespect for the river.”

In many ways, it was a strange conclusion for me to come to. As a fan of the BWCAW‘s strict regulations — including requiring visitors to camp at designated sites, restricting the number of entries at each entry point every day, and restricting group size — and even being a proponent of reducing the number of permits allotted for some of those entry points, I surprised myself for opposing increased regulation on the St. Croix. But, I thought about it quite a bit and ended up going with what my gut told me.

The debate is framed by two opposing perspectives on public land use (each with their own merits) which have defined the issue for the last century: access vs. conservation.

The current battleground in this long-running conflict, being a stretch of water that I know as well as any, and that I care for as much as any, presents a good chance for me to really dive in, inform myself, and form some opinions I can live with. Sure, going with my gut will factor into it, but I need to quantify that with some serious reflection, study and discussion.

Right now, I don’t claim to know what would be best. I’m doing my best to keep my own selfish feelings on the matter out of my evaluation, but that is often easier said than done. In subsequent posts, I’ll discuss at greater length those interests and a bit about “self-purification” as a process in participating in something like this.

I’ll also examine in detail the regulation alternatives that the Park Service has proposed, the implications of those details, and my own observations of use and abuse on this stretch of river.

Lastly, I should mention now that there is an open house regarding the plan hosted by the Park Service at William O’ Brien State Park on March 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. I’ll be there and I hope anyone else who is interested will attend as well.

Reading and Resources

[tags]national park service, national parks, camping, conservation, policy, st. croix river, wild and scenic river[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Camping on the Croix: Introduction to a Defining Debate

  1. MN Justin

    I’ll have to read up on this debate – good post here… I took my family up to the St. Croix two years ago. It was so, so very refreshing to be able to confidently immerse myself in the river – full baptism – without worrying about various pathogens, blue-green algae, rusty debris, etc. I would not put my head under the water (or even wet wade) of most of our big rivers in the SE… so it was a real treat for me.

    Anyway – not right on your topic here, but related enough, and I thought worth sharing…. love that river – want to fish smallies there one day soon.

  2. Greg Post author

    Justin – thanks for the anecdote. It’s a wonderful river and a true gem. Glad you were able to enjoy it. Fly fishing for smallies is one of my major ambitions this summer.

    Knowing how precious the river is, and how rare in how clean it is, makes me realize how important issues of conservation need to factor into any decisions made about the river’s management… That will surely be making its way into my series here.

  3. scott

    What are some of the possible solutions to taking care of the trash and debris left behind by teens and party boaters that mostly camp just north of Stillwater?

  4. Greg Post author

    Scott… well that’s the $6 million question, isn’t it?

    Still undecided on my stance on the issue, I think right now I can say I agree with most everyone I’ve seen voice their concerns that something needs to be done. I’m not sure if what the Park Service is proposing is entirely the right thing, both for solving the problems and for making sure people can still enjoy the riverway.

    Any ideas yourself?

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