Sun, Aug. 18

Editorial: Ban on boondocking is no guarantee problem will go away

VVN/Bill Helm

VVN/Bill Helm

It’s funny how solutions can quickly turn into problems.

Here in the Verde Valley, an abundance of Forest Service land and somewhat lax regulation created an opportunistic solution to folks challenged by the supply-and-demand realities of the local housing market.

As The Verde Independent/Camp Verde Bugle first reported in April 2016, semi-permanent camping on Forest Service land is common throughout the Verde Valley. Recreational vehicles circled like modern-day wagon trains became a common site along Arizona 260 between Cottonwood and Camp Verde. Ditto for Arizona 89A between Cottonwood and Sedona, at various pull-offs along Cornville Road and Salt Mine Road in Camp Verde from 260 to Beasley Flats Day Use Area.

It’s not just RVers. Some live in tents. Others sleep in their cars. There is no permanency to the places these folks call home. Fourteen days within any 30-day cycle and then move on to another site just down the road.

In our 2016 report on the problem, many of these “boondockers” said they would gladly park at established RV sites but supply far outpaces demand. And, prior to a well-publicize deadly brawl a few years ago, Cottonwood city ordinances and agreeable local business owners allowed for overnight stays in large-scale retail parking lots.

The solution that saw these “boondockers” take to the great outdoors ultimately became a problem. This past week, the Prescott National Forest said dispersed camping along Arizona 260 and Salt Mine Road has become a major safety issue because of overuse, overstay violations, abandoned property, trash, and illegal activities. As a result, beginning next month, PNF will enact a two-year temporary closure that will ban camping along these highway corridors.

Don’t be surprised if a similar edict is handed down soon by the Coconino National Forest.

All of which begs the question of where are these folks going to go? We might see some relief soon thanks to a large-scale RV park now under construction along AZ 260 near its intersection with I-17.

Many others, though, will always take the path of least financial resistance, making the solution to this problem as perplexing as the challenges of homelessness and affordable housing in general.

For the Prescott National Forest, the upcoming two-year ban on boondocking will be a period of study, public meetings and considerable dialogue.

There will be plenty of talk.

No guarantee on a solution.