By Dave Helgeson
The U.S. federal government controls nearly 650 million acres of land owned by you and me, the taxpayers of this great nation. That number is nearly 30 percent of the entire United States. For years those of us that love to recreate and camp (disperse camp — aka boondock) on public land had to rely on paper maps to know where the federal land was located. It was even more difficult to know which government agency controlled the land and where the actual boundaries were located.
Among the Internet, mobile apps and on-board GPS, locating public lands, the agency that has jurisdiction and the boundaries is no longer the arduous task it once was. Here are two indispensable sources for finding public lands, the administering agency and knowing when you are within their boundaries:
Publiclands.org allows you to search the 11 western states for both federal and state lands on which to recreate. You can zoom in or out, and pan to see the boundaries, while color overlays indicate controlling agencies. With a little cross-referencing via online topographic maps or Google Earth you can obtain the needed coordinates to successfully navigate to your chosen location. (Editor: Publiclands.org is a website from the Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA), a 501(c)(3) not-for profit educational organization.)
Similarly, by downloading the U.S. Public Lands app on your GPS-enabled mobile device not only can you view federal land, but you will know your relative position to the boundaries via an onscreen beacon. This allows you to follow a road onto federal land while seeing your real-time position onscreen. Now you will know exactly when you have crossed onto public lands.
Between the two resources listed above you can confidently and successfully navigate onto public lands without the guesswork of past methods.