Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Untended Campfires - A Scary Story

by Paul Haan, edited by J.H. Young
used with permission, from greatlakeshikes email group, and including additional information from various responses.

I stumbled across something this weekend that really set my teeth on edge. Our trail crew with the Western Michigan Chapter NCTA was out mowing back the bracken ferns along the trail in northern Newaygo County on cool, beautiful, breezy Sunday morning. Shortly before noon, I decided to bushwhack back from the car towards the mowing crew for which I was waiting. On my way through the brush, I stumbled across a recently vacated backpacker campsite. There, in the middle of it all, was an unattended, smoldering pile of ashes.

I couldn't believe my eyes. The wind was blowing at a good 25 mph, and some knuckleheads didn't have the common sense to put out their campfire before leaving?

With the windy conditions that morning, I would say the odds would have been pretty good for a forest fire had I not found their leavings. Perhaps they "thought" it was out, but it certainly wasn't. This location was a mere 2 miles south of where a couple of careless backpackers burned up 40 acres just a few years back.

Thankfully, their Leave No Trace practices weren't much better than their fire dousing skills, making it easy for me to trip across the smoldering ashes. They also left a wad of duct tape, a ziplock bag, and the matted down ferns . The fire was only about 60" off the trail and about 100" from the Cedar Creek drainage.

In response to this posting, other reported coming across campfires blazing high, less than three feet from stacked woodpiles with no human anywhere in the vicinity. Two of these instances were in the northern Manistee Forest, near Coates Highway, and one other one near Newaygo.

It's beginning to seem quite miraculous that we still have the Manistee National Forest intact to recreate in.

PLEASE, if you find it necessary to build a fire in the back country, make sure it is good and out before you leave. And while you're at it, PLEASE try to camp at LEAST 200" off trail and away from the water sources upon which we all depend.

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