A fter a summer that saw a horde of visitors descend on the Eastern Sierra, the calls for action rang loud and clear.
A substantial number of the visitors were first-time campers/recreators. Which meant that many did not know about the rules and regulations regarding outdoor recreation.
It meant unsupervised and ill-advised campfires, human waste left in the open, overflowing dumpsters, and illegal dispersed camping.
Over the course of the past winter, local authorities convened a collaborative group designed to tackle the problems that arose last summer.
The group, called the Eastern Sierra Dispersed Camping Collaborative (ESDCC), presented a five dimensional approach to solving the problem.
ESDCC is comprised of local stakeholders and agencies (i.e. LADWP, BLM, Forest Service, county governments) along with community members.
The solutions were presented at a Town Hall on Tuesday, May 25, attended by more than 150 locals via Zoom.
Mono County Supervisor Bob Gardner, one of the driving forces behind the ESDCC, kicked things off at the Town Hall.
He emphasized that the group is “not aimed at eliminating dispersed camping in the Eastern Sierra” but rather coming up with ways to keep the activity sustainable for the area.
“We’ve simply got to figure out how to make it work,” Town Hall moderator Paul McFarland said, “Not only do we have an explosion of use but we have an explosion of campers who are frankly new to camping.”
“Living here,” he continued, “not only gives us awesome access … but more and more it means that we have a real stake in figuring out solutions.”
“These days, it seems being a local means increased responsibility,” McFarland said.
The ESDCC divided into five subcommittees, each tasked with a broad topic to address.
The topics were education, mapping, stewardship, infrastructure, and enforcement and policy. The subcommittee heads were all local residents with a background in their respective topic.
Mono County Economic Development Director Alicia Vennos handled the presentation for the education committee.
The group conducted research on all things dispersed camping-related to compile a comprehensive guide. Vennos said that while much of the information is available online, “It’s very challenging for the public to find this information.”
A number of resources will be printed and distributed in both English and Spanish. The most common, a 4×9 inch wrap card, which will be available at visitor agencies and common tourist interaction points.
While the card doesn’t feature every single piece of information available, it tackles the key points and information, with directions to further resources.
The overarching message, Camp Like A Pro, “appeals to folks’ innate desire to do things right,” Vennos said.
ESDCC will also produce an 11×17 inch poster to be placed in high visitor frequency locations, and a downloadable/printable 8.5x11with more comprehensive information.
Matt Paruolo, lead for the Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Project, explained the mapping portion of the collaboration.
Paruolo and his team created a digital map, accessible through the ESSRP website, that pulls together information from a variety of sources to get a comprehensive visual guide.
The map outlines agency jurisdictions and rules; if one were to click on a portion of the map, all of the rules in effect in that area appear in a small window.
In addition, campgrounds, RV dump stations and parking, information centers, boat launches, and more are visible.
“It’s important to note that while each agency and organization has their own materials and maps and things to share, we don’t know of one place it was centered before,” Paruolo said of the map.
As restrictions are added or eased, the map will be updated in real time to reflect those changes.
The goal, Paruolo said, was to simplify the information into an easily digestible medium.
The map, housed at www.essrp.org/camping, also has resource links for agency websites and educational tools for anyone wishing to camp in the area
After mapping came stewardship. McFarland likened the situation to dining: “We live in one of the most popular restaurants in the world and we have trouble doing the dishes.”
Friends of the Inyo Stewardship Director Alex Ertaud discussed the subcommittee’s work.
The purpose of this group was “to enhance education, presence and restoration through partnerships.”
To that end, the group worked on a volunteer events calendar and a comprehensive list of agency and group contacts for getting involved. The next step is bridging the gap between volunteers and agency staff.
Mammoth Town Councilmember John Wentworth tackled infrastructure.
That group worked on identifying places in need of additional infrastructure (i.e. signage, bathrooms) and implmenting those designs.
Wentworth outlined an “adoption program” whereby businesses or individuals could agree to be responsible for a dumpster or port-a-potty for a season via cash donation.
The signage component makes information even more widely distributed and accessible while holding people accoutnable for ignorance.
Enforcement was handled by Mono County Sheriff Ingrid Braun.
Braun stressed the need for restraint and cooperation in enforcing policies; vigilante enforcement is not welcome.
Part of what makes enforcement difficult is limited personnel and a massive area to patrol. One way the committee is working to make the job is easier is beefing up County Code language to be more specific and encompassing. Braun said that enhanced signage and information/mapping will make the enforcement task easier.
Mono Basin Acting District Ranger Megan Mullowney said that her jurisdiction will be ramping things up as Covid-19 concerns ease. That means increased patrols and visibility.
“We do not have staffing to be everywhere at once,” she said. “We do have the capacity to work with individuals who are interested in sharing stewardship of our public lands.”