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Smith Rock, OR Skull Hollow campsite access
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Nov 16, 2010, 9:43 PM
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Registered: May 1, 2005
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Smith Rock, OR Skull Hollow campsite access
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Skull Hollow Campground near Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon will be closing for several months over the winter of 2010-2011. In 2009 the United States Forest Service (USFS) started charging fees and in 2010 turned the site over to a private concessionaire. The USFS only required the concessionaire to keep the site open from April 1 to October 31.

Skull Hollow is a popular camping site for climbers because of its remoteness, and access to USFS land, trails, and open space. Also, fires and car camping are permitted at Skull Hollow (unlike other local camping options), and the campground receives little snow fall so it can be used all winter.

On October 31 the concessionaire closed Skull Hollow Campground intending to keep it closed for 5 months through April 1. The first weekend November 6-7, 2010 the site was closed, many people just camped outside the campground. Multiple phone calls and emails to the Forest Service promoted them to ask the concessionaire to keep the site open longer. They have agreed to keep it open through November and reopen it March 1. This still leaves 3 months of the site being closed. Although winter is cold, a forecast of a sunny weekend can fill the campground.

Additionally, the USFS is getting ready to sign a 5 year agreement which still allows 5 months of closure time.

What Can You Do:

The USFS staff says that if they hear from enough people they might change the closure period. We need your help. Please email and phone USFS staff and let them know that you want the site left open during the winter. We need people from all over the US, Canada, Europe or anywhere else to write or call in. It can be a simple email saying where you live, you want to camp at Skull Hollow between Nov 1 – April 1.

You can expand the scope of your email by adding:
• Concern of resource damages from dispersed camping (Skull Hollow was constructed because of past problems from dispersed camping)
• how nice of a site it is,
• your positive past experiences that you have had at Skull Hollow CG,
• that you spend money in Central Oregon,
• the importance of camping opportunities near popular climbing areas,
• how well climbers take care of climbing areas and campsites
• the need for a site where you can have fires and car/van/rv camping,
• your vehicle is not capable of traveling further up the un-maintained rutted road to look for a camping spot (there are not many of them),

Please email or call:
Kent Koller: 541 416-6482.
Cathy Lund 541 416-6650


More Detailed information:
The USFS is allowing a private concessionaire to close Skull Hollow Campground near Smith Rock Oregon for 5 months each winter. Skull Hollow is popular with climbers. Over the years they created a gravel loop road, installed 2 vault toilets, picnic tables and fire pits. In 2009 they started charging fees. Many people choose to camp at Skull Hollow because you can sleep in your vehicle (trucks, vans, RVs, etc.) and you can have campfire, both you cannot do at Smith Rock due to small area and many neighbors. Smith Rock is a year round climbing area.

Last year they started charging fees. Now the USFS has a private concessionaire, who had a one year agreement to take care of the site. The USFS wrote in the contract that the concessionaire only had to keep the site open from April 1 to October 31, but can keep it open longer if they desire. The concessionaire is a large company in Utah who has many campgrounds throughout the Northwest, they pay a camp host a small amount of money to take care of the site. Additionally, the USFS holds the concessionaire responsible for damages to the site, even during the off season so it creates a financial risk to keep the site open without a host. The USFS is in the process of reassigning the agreement to the same company for a 5 year period of time under the same conditions. There was ZERO public input or consultation about the 5 month closure with local climbers or the Smith Rock Group (who have historically help fund the pumping of the toilets and cleanup of the site)

History of the site:
I started camping here in 1991. At that time it was a wide spot along a gravel road. Over the years more people learned about the site and it became the place to camp. I remember one year when a horse event was held in the middle of the summer. There were hundreds of horse trailers and campers out there, which really impacted the site. Much of the vegetation was knocked down and after that the campsites just spread all over the area. During the 1990’s the owner of Redpoint Climbers Supply was paying to keep portable toilets at the site. I believe around 1996 the USFS installed 2 vault toilets, laid down a gravel loop road, and fenced the area to keep cattle out. But at the same time they also banned all camping along the road, from the paved road for about one mile. From that point on, there are very few campsites, unless you drive several more miles up the road. The Smith Rock Group, who hold annual volunteer work days at Smith Rock started to pay one half of the cost of pumping the toilets and would send volunteers out each year to clean up the area and help to install fire grates. Over the years the USFS continued to add fire grates and picnic tables. Around 2007 or 2008 the economy really started to crash in Central Oregon. Skull Hollow was getting overrun with homeless. There were reports of domestic disputes, heavy drug use and late night fights. It was common to drive out there as see multiple homeless camps with ratty old trailers and garbage and junk all around the campsite. The USFS already had a 14 day stay limit at the site but it was rarely enforced. In 2009 the USFS passed a fee to help maintain the site and to help prevent the homeless from living there. Many people were opposed to the fee, citing that the people would be dispersed to other areas and that the USFS already had a mechanism to deal with the homeless, the 14 day stay limit. The USFS tried to run the campground for a year without a host. Someone stole the fee station. The USFS decided they “needed more help” with the site and decided to turn the site over to a private concessionaire. Now the site is slated to be closed for 5 months of the year. This site truly sees year round use. USFS staff would typically patrol during the day and would not see campers. Especially in the winter months people would spend the day recreating, go eat dinner in town and head out the Skull Hollow later in the evening. November and February are fairly busy. March is one of the busiest months of the year with good weather and 3 weeks of Spring Break with the Oregon, Washington and California school systems. Some people think there is no use in December and January, but we often get warm sunny days in the middle of the winter and the park and camping are very popular.

There is camping at Smith Rock State Park, which provides walk in tent sites and showers. But the grasslands provide a different experience for people. I think it is important to have multiple camping options around Smith Rock.

This was the first weekend that the site was closed of November 6 and 7 there were 26 tents outside of the campground, since the USFS failed to post no camping sites and failed to provide any public notice of the closure of the site. As of November 10th the USFS own website still states the site is open year round.

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Nov 17, 2010, 9:51 AM
Post #2 of 2 (999 views)

Registered: May 20, 2009
Posts: 13

Re: [rl23455] Smith Rock, OR Skull Hollow campsite access [In reply to]
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The Access Fund has an Action Alert set up on our website that makes advocating against this closure quick and easy. You can send a pre-written letter or edit the letter with your own thoughts.

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