Washington County adopts restrictions on camping outside designated sites

ST. GEORGE — As outdoor recreational pursuits across Washington County have increased over the last year, so have issues related to where people can pitch a tent and how long they can stay there. This led to the Washington County Commission approving new regulations on Tuesday regarding the matter.

Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Nate Brooksby speaks to the Washington County Commission about dispersed camping issues, St. George, Utah, Aug. 17, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Washington County/CEC, St. George News

In the wake of passing camping reservations at Kolob Reservoir to address problems of overcrowding, trespassing and associated issues earlier this year, the commission approved regulations addressing dispersed camping on public and unincorporated lands within the county.

“Obviously, across the county we’re seeing recreation in places we typically didn’t see,” Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Nate Brooksby told the commission on Tuesday.

According to the new regulations, dispersed camping is defined as camping anywhere within unincorporated Washington County or public lands outside of a designated camping location.

There has been an uptick in people camping and recreating in remote parts of the county that either may not be the most ideal due to safety issues, or happens to be on private property. In some cases, acts of vandalism have taken place.

Brooksby gave an example of a group of 30 people who had basically been “homesteading” on a piece of land owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) near the old Goldstrike Mine in the northwestern part of the county. Sheriff’s deputies were able to get the campers to clear out, but had also been finding similar problems in places like Sheep’s Bridge, Motoqua and Warner Valley.

File photo overlooking Warner Valley from the Hurricane Cliffs, Washington County, Utah, photo undated | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

Addressing Warner Valley specifically, Brooksby and members of the commission noted the complaints of local ranchers who have watering holes and troughs meant for their livestock that are either getting vandalized or contaminated by campers who may not know any better.

Other issues have included an increase in, and improper disposal, of trash and human waste left behind by some campers. Campfires – which have been prohibited within the county due to fire concerns – have also been a constant worry for county officials and land managers.

While federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have laws allowing them to address the issue on public lands, county law enforcement lacked similar laws and enforcement ability. This led to the Sheriff’s Office going to the Washington County Attorney’s Office with the issue about six months ago.

“The solution was to come up with some county ordinance that would give us some enforcement options in trying to address some of these problems in the rural parts of the community,” Brooksby said.

In order to address the problem of people occupying a campsite or leaving a camper there for an excessive amount of time – and thus blocking the site off to use by others – individuals can only occupy a camping spot for 15 out of 28 days.

Stock image, St. George News

If a camper or other property is left on the site, its owner has 72 hours to remove it. After that point, it will be removed and held by the county until the owner retrieves it.

People also cannot camp within 200 feet of a water trough or watering hole. Prior to this, people have been using these as places to bathe themselves and their pets, or wash their camping utensils and other items.

Commissioner Victor Iverson said ranchers often have that water trucked in for their cattle, which is also expensive for them to do.

Violations of the county ordinance can result in an infraction with a fine of up to $300 or more.

“I’m not a big regulations guy, but some of the things we do have to be regulated,” County Commission Chair Gil Almquist said.

While the violation of the ordinance may result in fines for repeat offenders early on, Brooksby said, the Sheriff’s Office has a goal to educate the public versus handing out citations. Some people just aren’t aware of what the rules are, he said, so there will be a time for them to learn what they are.

“The goal isn’t to go after dispersed campers in our county – the vast majority of whom are super responsible and are just out enjoying the outdoors,” County Attorney Eric Clarke said. “This is to help our law enforcement have the ability to help these people move on who are out there abusing things, disrupting things and costing ranchers a lot of money.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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