Oregon changes rules, hikes fees on forest camping

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Tillamook State Forest

RVers and other outdoor recreationists may find a few changes if they favor overnight visits to Oregon State Forests. To clarify, we mean lands overseen by the Oregon Board of Forestry, not by the U.S. Forest Service. The state authorities are bringing new rules online that will affect fees paid by campers on these state-controlled lands.

Back in 2016, the state put in fee increases for designated campgrounds under its purview. In an almost apologetic fashion, at that time forestry officials said that this was the first price increase in many years, and that increasing costs forced the fee increase. Back then, overnighting in a campground was increased to $15 per night, with two vehicles allowed. Walk-in site fees were set at $10. But what you might find interesting when you compare Oregon’s policy to Uncle Sam’s Forest Service policy is this: Dispersed camping on Forest Service lands is (still) free; in Oregon, you pay $5 per night, per vehicle.

Two years later, and Oregon is revisiting the issue. Here’s a quote from a news release: “Campsite fees have increased to include two vehicles in the base fee. Drive-in campsites will now cost $20 per night, while walk-in tent sites will be $15 per night. This reflects the reality that many campers are already bringing two vehicles.” Reflects the reality? There’s nothing free here – the state was already allowing two vehicles, and has been, at least since 2016.

Gnat Creek Campground. Sam Beebe on flickr.com

Next week, the state will also “pull the rug” on free camping in some other areas. “ODF will begin charging camping fees at the following designated camping areas in the Tillamook State Forest: Morrison Eddy ($15 per night for up to two vehicles) along with Cedar Creek and North Fork Wilson Designated Campsites ($5 per vehicle per night).”

Additional restrictions are also being put in place as to just how long you can camp on state-controlled Forestry Lands. To quote the release, “Stays on state forestland may be no longer than 14 consecutive days, or more than 42 days over a 12-month period.” Can’t help but draw another difference between the state and the feds. Many Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management areas have a 14-day limit; but for most, it’s a matter of moving a specified distance away from the original site, then you can “restart the clock,” as it were. Oregon’s restrictions are a bit more severe, but officials say it’s because too many people are using “state forests as their primary residence.”

On the other hand, the state is offering a freebie or two. If you’re a military vet with a service-connected disability, and you have a Veteran’s Special Access Pass issued by Oregon State Parks, overnight camping in Oregon Forest campgrounds is free. And active duty service members get free camping on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.

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