(Update: Adding video, Forest Service comments)
Responsible camping urged: 'If you pack it in, can you pack it out?'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) --The number of campers in the Deschutes National Forest has increased dramatically in the past year, as COVID-19-weary residents and visitors flock to the great outdoors -- and it shows no sign of slowing down.
Jean Nelson-Dean, public affairs officer for the forest, said recreational camping increased by 40% last year at both built campgrounds and dispersed camping.
Nelson-Dean said Monday the Forest Service expects another challenging year of crowds in the forests. She doesn't expect the demand to go down this summer.
"Most of those campgrounds are 100% reserved already, so the expectation is that we are going to continue to see a lot more dispersed camping on the Deschutes National Forest as we get more visitation and as our capacity in our campgrounds is exceeded," Nelson-Dean said.
When people choose to do dispersed camping instead of staying in built campgrounds, they are not required to obtain a permit for their stay and are allowed to stay for up to 14 days in the forest.
As more people visit the forest, Nelson-Dean asks that people recreate within the areas responsibly. That means staying on designated paths and especially cleaning up after yourself.
"If people are coming to the Deschutes National Forest, whether they are going to a developed campground that's obvious or deciding to do dispersed camping, getting a 40% increase in use in one year -- we do not have the staffing to deal with all the garbage and all the waste that is left behind," she said. "So just as you would if you're going hiking, if you pack it in, can you pack it out?"
The Deschutes National Forest had about 4.5 million visitors last year, and Nelson-Dean said a lot of trash was left behind in recreational areas.
"Our staff had to make multiple, multiple trips, sometimes even to even our developed campgrounds, just to pick up trash. It would be nice if people kind of helped deal with that themselves," Nelson-Dean said.
Nelson-Dean said not only does all the trash left behind affect the aesthetics of the forest, it also negatively impacts the wildlife and plants in the area.