Free Camping Areas Near Reno Closed Due to Trash & Squatters

The mission of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is to protect and sustain our public land for many uses, including energy development, livestock grazing, and of course, recreation. BLM dispersed campsites are a favorite in the Campendium community. Located mostly in the American West, these areas allow for fee-free, no-frills camping for anywhere from a couple of days to upwards of a month.

However, in the past few years, abuse of these recreation lands under BLM care—including trashed campsites and campers overstaying posted stay limits—has forced the agency to make tough decisions, and in some cases, they have chosen to close an area down. A new closure was recently reported in the area known as the Carson City District. This federal land outside Lake Tahoe is in an area that covers parts of Nevada and some of eastern California.

abandoned rv
Photo courtesy of Carson City District, Bureau of Land Management

“The main reason is for public health and safety because a lot of these people who were camping were doing it for an extended period of time,” explained Lisa Ross, the Public Affairs Specialist for the Carson City District. “Quite often, when they leave, they just leave their trash, and we have a big abandoned vehicle problem, and that’s left for us to clean up at the taxpayers’ expense.”

In all, Carson City District is more than five million acres. Like much of Nevada, the area offers rolling hills, desert views, and occasional mountains and rivers. For Campendium users, there are popular sites to visit like Moon Rocks, a true-to-its-name, out-of-this-world destination that’s popular for driving off-road vehicles, and The Mugwumps, an area known for its strange geological rock formations called tufa rocks. Luckily, neither of these areas has been impacted by the closures.

Officials say most of the trouble spots were just north of Reno, near Sun Valley in Lyons and Washoe Counties. Many of the issues came from people living on the land in a way that is more in line with squatting than camping. These BLM land users set up near urban areas for easy access and stay far beyond the posted stay limit. This leads to damage to natural resources, hazardous conditions left behind, and even fire dangers from campfires.

Similar issues have been seen in other parts of the country, like in a section of northern Arizona’s national forest, which also lead to a land closure.

In Nevada, Ross says they have been aware of these problems for a while now, and they have been working with other local departments to address the issues.

“It’s something that’s been in the works for quite a while, and it’s something we’ve been doing outreach on for the last few months with the different counties and agencies to get their support,” said Ross.

Trashed campsite
Photo courtesy of Carson City District, Bureau of Land Management

Ross says on top of abandoned vehicles and trash, these transient areas can often make recreational campers uncomfortable and prevent them from using the area to enjoy the outdoors. Like many places, the Carson City District does have a 14-day stay rule for visitors, but with limited resources and officers, and in such a massive area, it was hard to patrol. According to Ross, this led to some people staying in the area for months.

Officials say the problem did not end there. They have seen evidence of people using the land for target practice and other activities that leave messes behind. In some cases, they have had to call in hazardous waste contractors to clean up particular areas. The natural resources were also getting destroyed, and the price tag for continuously dealing with left behind cars, trucks, and even RVs, started to tick up.

“It’s the expense of it; it can be up to $6,000 to remove an abandoned RV,” said Ross. “We have removed quite a few off of public lands, and we have worked with companies to do so. After people abandon them, then people would vandalize them and strip them or shoot them up.”

As part of their campaign to raise awareness, Carson City District BLM released multiple maps for visitors to check out where camping is available and which areas are now closed. Closed locations include the Reno area, Lyon County area, and Carson City area.

For now, federal officials have no plans to reopen these areas, as they want to give them time to heal from overuse and other issues. However, they want to make sure visitors know how much camping is still available in their district.

“It’s also a very small percentage of land within the district. There are a lot of areas that are still open to camping,” said Ross. “Give us a call or check our website. You can check out the map to see where the closures are. It’s a very small area out of all the dispersed camping [offered in the district].”