Author Topic: Affordable/free camping idea  (Read 6047 times)

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Offline nomad

Affordable/free camping idea
« on: March 05, 2012, 04:21:30 pm »
Warmshowers.com is a great idea but it has the drawback of having to trust strangers.  What if instead of lawn-sharing, there was a non-profit corporation that would buy up small parcels of land for use as cyclist camping.  The parcels could be relatively small because no (car) parking would be needed, only bathrooms and showers.  Users could clean and maintain the facilities as a means of funding their membership.  Granted, there are a lot of affordable campgrounds around but how many are geared exclusively to cyclists who just need a place to sleep before leaving early in the morning?  Plenty of motels cater to auto travel in this way.  Walmart and other businesses allow RVs to park for free overnight.  Shouldn't there be something comparable for bicycle travel to make longer trips affordable?

Offline Ronn

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2012, 05:41:46 pm »
Yes there should be something for cycle tourer.. :)

Offline waynemyer

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Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2012, 06:31:36 am »
While I would certainly patronize such a business, I think bicycles are still too niche for that to gain serious traction. There are already plenty of other businesses that parallel what you suggest. What immediately comes to mind is Hostelling International. In all of the hostels I've stayed in America, they seem to cater quite nicely to cyclists.

When I've rolled into campgrounds late at night (too late to properly check-in), the ranger/caretaker simply came by in the morning and collected my fee, and often offers to deliver firewood if I want it, and wants to chat amicably.

I think the "trust strangers" aspect is overblown. Stranger Danger is such a deeply rooted, yet misplaced fear in our society. Riding on the side of the road, we have to trust far more strangers, far more extensively than staying in their homes. I have yet to have a bad experience with hosting or being hosted through Warm Showers. The most negative thing I did experience was a host with overly friendly dogs and a previously-undeclared early departure. The lack of sleep through the night on account of the dogs and early start made for a tired day. But I have had plenty of bad nights in campgrounds with noisy environs.

Of course, if you think the cyclist campground is a viable idea, you might just have yourself a killer business model.
waynemyer.com
warmshowers.org  (user:waynemyer)

Offline mucknort

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2012, 09:08:28 am »
Warmshowers.com is a great idea but it has the drawback of having to trust strangers. 

Trusting (and meeting) strangers is a huge appeal of warmshowers for me. Everyone I've met as a guest and a host has been great.
As far as simple campsites for bike tourists, I wish campgrounds across the US followed the Hiker/Biker model of the Pacific Coast State Parks and had a separate little section that was  cheap and simple and located away from the vehicles. (Heck, I wish the sponsor of this fine website had a simple Biker campground (on or offsite) at their headquarters in Missoula, MT. While the hospitality is wonderful when you visit, the only campground in town is a KOA.)

Offline johnsondasw

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2012, 12:19:55 pm »
Warmshowers.com is a great idea but it has the drawback of having to trust strangers. 


As far as simple campsites for bike tourists, I wish campgrounds across the US followed the Hiker/Biker model of the Pacific Coast State Parks and had a separate little section that was  cheap and simple and located away from the vehicles.

Totally agree and have thought this many times.  In addition to the reasonable place to stay, this would definitely encourage more bike touring.  Interesting idea for ACA to set the example!
May the wind be at your back!

Offline jamawani

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2012, 01:20:34 pm »
Show me the $$$.
It's all about money these days and there's no money in it.

There are, however, many opportunities for free camping that have been discussed online - here, at BikeForums, and at CrazyGuy.

If you want the conveniences of town you are usually going to have to pay.  Some towns in Iowa and Nebraska have very minimal costs - then you have the stores, cafes, and taverns to choose from.   The rule of thumb is - "Smaller is better."  If the town is big enough to have a private campground, then obviously, they are unlikely to let you camp for free in the town park.  Your best bet is with towns under 1000 that have, maybe, one cafe and one store - which is really all you need.  Another option is to ask at churches.  Liability issues have made churches more squeamish, but the pastor may allow you to camp out back and use the facilities.

The most widespread free camping is on federal lands.  You can camp for free on almost all Forest Service and BLM land - but you need to know where it is.  Most is in the West - but there are national forests all over the U.S.  This does NOT apply to National Park and National Wildlife Refuge lands - where random camping is prohibited.  Most states lease state lands to ranchers or other users so random camping is not allowed.  Some states DO allow camping at fishing access sites and on state game lands.  Finally, don't random camp on Indian Reservation lands.

Offline indyfabz

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2012, 02:14:38 pm »
If the Twin Bridges Cycle Camp is any indication, I think it would be tough going on a large scale. The Cycle Camp is pretty much the exact facility you describe, although built on town property. It has an enclosed shelter, plenty of green grass to pitch tents, a camp sink, shower and flush john. It's right on the Trans Am, a very popular route as cycling routes go. Donations are requested, but not required, and amny people who use the facility help clean and/or donate supplies. Despite the fact that it brings money into the local economy, there are members of the town government who are not behind it. Those not behind the facility don't see an economic benefit. That is why the people who run the place ask you to fill out a survey and indicate the amount of coin you dropped at town businesses.

As noted, money is an issue. The facilities need to be constructed and maintained. Insurance needs to be paid for. Small parcels may not be available, necessitating subdivision, which has costs.

Also as noted, there already exist many places where you can camp legally in towns for free or at low cost. On the Northern Tier we stayed in several city/town parks or other local facilities such as fairgrounds. Most were free. Some were very inexpensive. And there are the federal lands also noted. Even developed sites on these lands can be inexpensive. This summer we stayed at Divide Bridge, a BLM campground on the Big Hole River near Divide, MT. $6/night/site, and the host gave us all the firewood we could split from his personal supply.

With all that said, at least one land owner has set up something very similar to Twin Bridges on the Northern Tier:

http://barnbicyclecamping.blogspot.com/

Offline BikeFreak

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2012, 04:20:38 pm »
Another option is to ask at churches.  Liability issues have made churches more squeamish, but the pastor may allow you to camp out back and use the facilities.

The most widespread free camping is on federal lands.  You can camp for free on almost all Forest Service and BLM land - but you need to know where it is.  Most is in the West - but there are national forests all over the U.S.  This does NOT apply to National Park and National Wildlife Refuge lands - where random camping is prohibited.  Most states lease state lands to ranchers or other users so random camping is not allowed.  Some states DO allow camping at fishing access sites and on state game lands.  Finally, don't random camp on Indian Reservation lands.

That is some pretty interesting information. It should be added as a sticky note.

I have biked several times in the US and never really done any wild camping, all because of the fear of meeting an angry redneck/farmer with a shotgun in the middle of the night with a couple of aggressive dogs. Everywhere you see the "No trespassing - Violators will be prosecuted" notes on tree trunks etc. Thus, I have been very cautious and reluctant in that matter. Maybe it is just an overreaction? Maybe I have seen too many movies?  :o.

And like the thread starter: I find it absolutely horrible to pay 30 dollars for a tent site arriving at 8pm and leaving at 6am. All because the campground only operates with one fee = "Full RV hookup incl pull through for your convenience".

Anyhow.

I'm interested in the church options. When arriving in a small sub-1000 town how do I establish contact with the pastor to ask for permission? Is this only possible when arriving early (=late afternoon) because he is around or at work? What if you arrive just before sunset? What is good practice and common sense in that matter?

Lucas

Offline jamawani

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2012, 06:02:56 pm »
In small-town churches nowadays, the pastor is more likely to be a she.
Quite often, the church sign will have the pastor's name.
Sometimes, they have multiple churches they serve in a few nearby towns.
It's easiest to ask - "Does Rev. Smith live here in Smallville?"
If she lives 30 miles away - then ask if a minister does live in Smallville.
So, the Baptist minister - Rev. Johnson - lives over on Maple Street.
So you call Rev. Johnson, instead, and ask.  Don't expect.
But you will usually be pleasantly surprised by the generosity.

As for public lands - I find the purchase of National Forest maps worth it.
They show surface ownership patterns - with a scale of 1 inch = 2 miles.
So they are pretty detailed for touring and back roads, too.
They have them in paper ($5) and plastic ($10).  Or thereabouts.
Even one night of pricey camping more than covers the cost of a plastic map.
Most larger towns near forests have a Forest Service office.
Plus, town libraries will often have areas maps, too.

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #9 on: March 06, 2012, 07:55:10 pm »
While I think this is a cool concept, I tend to agree with others here that the logistics/money would not make this practical.

If we are to assume this is a nationwide network in the US, this would take a lot of cash to buy up even small parcels of land to have these bicyclist campgrounds. And even with the campgrounds being low impact, there are maintenance fees. And if it was a membership-based organization, how big of an organization would it have to be to make it feasible, and how much would dues be?

Let's take ACA as an example: in 2011, there are 43,550 members. If this non-profit organization were to be as big as Adventure Cycling, and membership dues were $40/year which is ACA's base member rate, this would mean $1,742,000 in yearly income for the organization. There would most likely be other revenue streams etc, but how far would about two million dollars a year go towards acquiring land, building campsites, maintaining them, etc?

This concept might work better on a smaller scale, local level, and partnered up with a like-minded organizaton. I know in Mt. Hood National Forest a group set up a series of "Bike Huts" for mountain bikers.

I think the best idea is encourage those organizations that are already set up for camping, like state parks, to develop hiker/biker sites either in already existing campgrounds or in other lands they own. Or get more of these small towns along ACA routes and in popular touring to allow free/nominal fee camping in their town parks.

I also agree that warmshowers is a great resource and the fear of trusting strangers is overblown. We stayed with quite a few warmshowers hosts on our trip last year, and most hosts were good to great. We had a couple less-than-stellar stays, but nothing along the line of fearing for our safety.

Offline jamawani

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #10 on: March 06, 2012, 08:49:43 pm »
Sorry, I disagree about Warmshowers.
I was a member for a couple of years.
Never stayed - but hosted quite a few folks.
Most were quite nice - a few rude -
Such as showing up drunk or having to be asked to get a move on.
(What is so hard to understand about - "I will be leaving at 8:00"?)

Last year, I randomly checked out someone.
His name - not absolutely unique, but fairly uncommon -
Was the same as someone convicted of sexually molesting frat pledges.
I did a thorough web check - his blog site confirmed identical details.
When I brought this to the attention of the Warmshowers director -
He said that it wasn't their job to screen persons using the website.

Maybe there are only a few risky folks - but it only takes one.
Plus, websites such as that DO have the potential to attract sociopaths.
Sorry, but that is how sociopaths think and operate.
They actively seek out persons who may be trusting or vulnerable.
I immediately ended my participation in Warmshowers.

Offline BikeFreak

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2012, 02:07:24 am »
In small-town churches nowadays, the pastor is more likely to be a she.
Quite often, the church sign will have the pastor's name.
Sometimes, they have multiple churches they serve in a few nearby towns.
It's easiest to ask - "Does Rev. Smith live here in Smallville?"
If she lives 30 miles away - then ask if a minister does live in Smallville.
So, the Baptist minister - Rev. Johnson - lives over on Maple Street.
So you call Rev. Johnson, instead, and ask.  Don't expect.
But you will usually be pleasantly surprised by the generosity.

As for public lands - I find the purchase of National Forest maps worth it.
They show surface ownership patterns - with a scale of 1 inch = 2 miles.
So they are pretty detailed for touring and back roads, too.
They have them in paper ($5) and plastic ($10).  Or thereabouts.
Even one night of pricey camping more than covers the cost of a plastic map.
Most larger towns near forests have a Forest Service office.
Plus, town libraries will often have areas maps, too.

Thanks for the info on churches.

Here at http://www.recreation.gov/ it is possible to see where established campsites are located in the national forests. You are even able to make online reservations and payments. But you are saying that besides these established campsites in National Forests, you could literally camp 1 mile away from the signed camp site for free - because it is public land? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Next, when searching on http://www.recreation.gov/ I see that many many campsites are something called group campsites or family campsites, where, for instance, they ask for 50 dollars for one group campsite. Has anyone stayed in such campsites? Is it a matter of asking the group/family to share a few square feet for another tent. What is the intention of these special campsites.

Lucas

Offline jamawani

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #12 on: March 07, 2012, 03:00:55 am »
Generally, you can camp anywhere on USFS or BLM land as long as you are 1/2 to 1 mile from a developed area.  More than once I have found a lovely campsite just down the road a piece - much quieter - and I have the water pump and picnic tables only 1/2 mile away.  There are a few exceptions - in forests surrounding ski towns like Jackson and Aspen there are camping restrictions - otherwise the entire forest becomes an outhouse for hipsters chillin' out in the party towns.  It is unfortunate, but abuse of the resource led to the ban.

Most of the time the managing agency will NOT let you stay in group campsites unless all other campsites are full and there is no one using the group campsite.  Usually it's the ranger's call.

BTW - Many of the same camping options apply to Crown Lands in Canada.

Offline jamawani

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #13 on: March 07, 2012, 03:06:16 am »
PS - Although most USFS maps are not available online - California forests are.
http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/forestvisitormaps/

Click on one and then click a section.
You can see the grid, the roads - paved & unpaved, the developed sites, and the land ownership.

Offline mucknort

Re: Affordable/free camping idea
« Reply #14 on: March 07, 2012, 01:51:07 pm »
Sorry, I disagree about Warmshowers.

Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with a warmshower guest and even more so that you never used warmshowers as a guest yourself. Being able to conveniently pull up to a stranger's house, share a meal, have wonderful conversations, sleep in a bed/floor, enjoy other hospitalities, and usually reaching some point of feeling that you were re-visiting long lost friends - all for free, is a wonderful aspect of bike touring.

For others considering being a warmshowers host, know that you always have the option to say no to anyone that asks to be a guest. Whenever we get a call/email from someone that wishes to be a warmshowers guest I always look up their account on the WS site and read recommendations that have been left from others (we also do this when on the road and searching for a host). If there are 0 recommendations, or any bad ones, I'll just ignore the request. But even if they are new to warmshowers, you can always "google" their name and find out about them before saying yes or no.

Jamawani, I'm wondering if you read the recommendations of the guests you hosted that were rude to you, or if you wrote a negative report on those folks to prevent the same experience for other hosts. Warmshowers isn't a perfect system, but I find the checks and balances make it feel a safe opportunity to host or be a guest.