Pete Zimowsky: It's a simple deal, folks: Don't trash any campsites

Some people just can't figure out how to leave a clean camp.

June 27, 2013 

0627 out zimocol3


Camping at undeveloped campsites is a great way to get away from it all.

Lots of times, you don't get neighbors like you would in developed U.S. Forest Service campgrounds or in Idaho state parks. You also don't have to pay fees and abide by all the rules in a setting with lots of campers.

Don't get me wrong. I like developed campgrounds and state parks, but sometimes it's neat to just drive down the road and decide to camp in the trees next to any old creek or river.

That's why preserving the right to camp anywhere you want on public lands is very important.

The right isn't going to last long if problems like the ones I saw last week along the banks of the Salmon River near Stanley continue.

I can't believe some campers still don't have a clue with all the "Leave No Trace" education programs.


For starters, we drove into the campsite and there was toilet paper on the ground and in the bushes.

Toilet paper just doesn't disappear. It's there for months during the camping season, or it blows into the river or some place else downstream.

Leave No Trace says make a cathole at least 200 feet from water, camp or trails.

Use a small trowel to dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and 6 inches in diameter.

After you use the hole, cover it will dirt and then disguise it with natural materials, such as pine needles, sticks or bark.

That's OK in a seldom- used backcountry campsite, or while backpacking. I agree fully with Leave No Trace on this.

However, many of undeveloped campsites near highways, streams and rivers get constant use during camping season, so there's no room for digging catholes. Sometimes, there's not even 200 feet between the river and the road.

Imagine if an undeveloped campsite is used each weekend spring through fall by a group of four people, and they all dig catholes. Say the camp spot gets 20 to 30 nights of camping throughout the season.

That could be more than 100 catholes in a concentrated area. I know this is gross, but some campers are gross.

We're to the point, with a growing population and more campers, that if people choose to stay in undeveloped campsites, they should be self-sufficient and bring a porta-potty.

Portable toilets are inexpensive and sanitary. You can pack out your waste and not leave a bunch of catholes near the campsite.

Also, sitting on a porta-potty is a lot more comfortable than sitting on the edge of a log or rock.


I can't believe what we found in one of the fire rings near where we camped.

There were heavy plastic bags and aluminum cans stuffed in the fire ring.

Some folks must think trash disappears, or the next camper is going to burn plastic?

Litter is an ongoing problem. Why would you leave a beer can hanging in a tree like a Christmas ornament?

Get real, people.


If you look closely in some undeveloped campsites, you'll find micro trash. It's the stuff you don't see right off the bat. Look closely and you'll find cigarette butts, used matches, plastic lids off propane bottles and lure wrappers.

Micro trash is a serious problem, especially if a bird or animal eats it.

I can't believe I've been harping on this subject for about 40 years. But last week's campout sent me over the edge again about Leave No Trace, even for car camping.

Here are a few more tips on car camping in undeveloped sites:

• Camp where other campers have been camping, like on bare ground or a hard surface. Don't set up your camp on untrampled vegetation.

• Don't make another fire ring. Use the one already there. Chances are you'll have to clean it up when you arrive.

• Keep the fire small. Also, cook on a gas stove.

• Don't cut green trees for firewood. Yikes! Can't believe I even have to mention this.

• Walk on existing paths to the creek or for hiking. Don't make new ones.

• Put a ground cloth under your kitchen area to collect food scraps and trash. It's easier to clean up that way. River runners have been doing it for years.

• Keep track of your micro trash - candy wrappers, matches, etc.

• Clean up the campsite before you leave, even other campers' trash.

• Pack out your dog's waste and put it in the nearest trash can.

Good camping. Let's preserve the right to camp in undeveloped campsites.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

Statesman outdoor writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate columns on Thursday. Look for Roger next week.

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