May 20, 2012 at 9:02 pm #1290140
I had a rare unpleasant run in with a ranger this weekend and wanted to get some feedback. How would you have dealt with the situation? My friend and I came into a shelter area in the catskills late at night after a long day of hiking up and down on devil's path. The particular lean to we were at is in the middle of a boulder field in between two mountains. After finding the lean to filled beyond capacity we spent some time in the dark scouring for any flat space to camp. Due to the boulder field, there was literally nowhere big enough to set up a tent or a tarp around the rocks other than sites that were less than the designated 150 feet from a trail. There were many other people who had found themselves in a similar situation and had set up tents. Being that we wanted to do the least damage, we set up next to the lean to where there was already impacted ground. Next morning we are woken by a stern yelling to get out of our tents. Confronted by a female ranger with an attitude at 6:00 Am and we were immediately asked for ID. We gave her the ID and she said "no camping, you are less than 150 feet of the trail." I sleepily gestured towards the full lean to and all the other people around us. I said, "we figured the best move was to camp next to the lean to after spending a good amount of time looking around for a legal site." She said nothing and walked away. 15 minutes later she comes back and just handed us tickets. No education, no discussion, just an angry look and a gruff attitude. When I asked her what we should have done instead, she said "find another site like that guy over there." Then she wrote a ticket to a guy in a hammock, and finally proceeded over to the guy who she had gestured towards before when talking to us… and decided to write him a ticket too because he in fact also was too close to the lean to! I was so mad because it felt like one of those situations where we had no options, where the state just sent her in to make a quick buck. She also didn't ask us to move our tents, she didn't take any opportunity to educate the group of people she ticketed, and she treated us all like crap. We were all upset and tried not to let it bother us, but my friend and I couldn't let it go all day. I've had so many pleasant ranger run ins before, but this was just one nasty woman. And I never camp too close to the trail, its such a stab at my ego to get a ticket the first time I ever broke that darn rule. But here was a situation where we were just totally done and couldn't scale any more peaks to find shelter, in a place where the mountains are just straight up and down with very little flat below legal camping altitude. Anyway what would you guys do in this situation? I was half asleep and felt like I did nothing and should have defended myself on condition of the full lean to and giant boulder field. Thoughts?May 20, 2012 at 9:44 pm #1879678
Get ahold of her supervisor and complain.
It might not help your situation, but if you can explain yourself and what happened, maybe you can at least prevent events like this from happening in the future.May 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm #1879690
Justin BrennanBPL Member
@jgbrennanLocale: Here and there.
I agree. Blatant disregard for rules is one thing, your situation is another. I would email her supervisor and let them know exactly what happened and how you think she could have handled the situation better. At the same time though, it is unfortunately a risk we take sometimes.May 20, 2012 at 10:41 pm #1879703
"its such a stab at my ego to get a ticket the first time I ever broke that darn rule"
Thoughts on how to handle this. First, better planning in advance for where to stop, knowing how crowded popular areas can be in season. Plan accordingly with reasonable back-up sites in mind, even if it means not making as many miles per day as you'd like. Know the trail, know the camp areas in advance and don't over extend yourself such that you arrive at night in a constrained area like this where the risk of not getting a site is so high. Stuff happens. I find that being flexible with my itiniary helps avoid problems like this.
Other than that, if the situation happened as you say, then either 1) calmly try to speak with the ranger and ask their advice on how to handle such issues in the future or 2) quietly and HUMBLELY accept the ticket and then attach a COURTEOUS, NON-COMBATIVE note with your payment explaining the situation regarding the lack of sites, etc. It never helps to get in a shouting match. Be the bigger person. Defuse the situation and you'll have a higher probablity of success at appealing to someone's ie the ranger's sense of fairness, understanding, or whatever.
I wasn't there so i can't really judge what happened wiht the ranger. They have a tough job and i have rarely come accross anybody as you described – not saying it can't happen or didn't happen to you – but most of them want hikers to error on the side of caution when in the wilderness. OTOH, this could be an area where they deal with a lot of scoff-laws.
In any event, as maddening as some situations can be, after you kick a stump, it may help to focus on what you can do in the future – ie what's in your control – to avoid placing yourself in such a predicament again.
Lastly, if none of the above works for you, just have a nice cold beer and congratulate yourself for making a badly needed financial donation to the maintenance of our vauable national parks!May 21, 2012 at 5:31 am #1879730
Greg MihalikBPL Member
I was late for the concert…we'd been stuck in traffic for hours…there was no place to park…so all I could do was park in a yellow zone…
…first time ever…and, do you believe it!?…I got a ticket…and the officer didn't even try to explain things…
Ahh, yep.May 21, 2012 at 6:47 am #1879748
@clebowLocale: Orange County
Greg, argument from authority is a logical fallacy.May 21, 2012 at 8:45 am #1879782
John S.BPL Member
The ranger has heard that story a million times probably. When people get caught they frequently give that story (nowhere else to go) to get out of the situation.
Solution: figure out ways to stealth camp and get better at it. You have to hide or accept the fine. Arguing with a federal officer (not sure if all rangers are) will never be the right decision.May 21, 2012 at 9:12 am #1879796
Stephen BarberBPL Member
Nice analogy, Greg!May 21, 2012 at 11:17 am #1879840
Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I have stealth camped off-trail on the AT in the Shenandoah National Foprest, where one MUST stay in the shelters.
In my case I just didn't want to cook in the dark. My buddy went on to the shelter because he LIKES those mouse infested social gatherings.
Next morning I cought up with him as he was still p[acking up. (He's a s l o w one to pack.)
So stealth camping is your only "ticketless option" in a situation like yours. I do understand the end-of-day-exhaustion though and sympathize.
OTOH… I think you got unlucky to get such jerk as that very unprofessional ranger. She needs to work in a correctional facuility, not a park.
BTW, as for turning the other cheek, well I'd have torn up the d@mn ticket in front of her. Let the chips fall – sometimes it's worth it. What are they going to do? Put you in the slammer for a truly tiny camping vioation?May 21, 2012 at 11:43 am #1879849
I was up there this weekend n know waht a problem you must have had finding a spot with all the people we saw camping this weekend.. it was unulsually busy.
Keep an eye on this thread over on ADKHP forums. I really want to know if this rule actually exists.
I'm usre that ticket is for $100.. it would bother me to no end.
.May 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm #1879912
Why give the ID, just pack up and leave?May 21, 2012 at 3:08 pm #1879920
Walter CarringtonBPL Member
"BTW, as for turning the other cheek, well I'd have torn up the d@mn ticket in front of her. Let the chips fall – sometimes it's worth it. What are they going to do? Put you in the slammer for a truly tiny camping violation?"
Yes. I'm pretty sure that the NY rangers have police powers and will be very annoyed if you give them a hard time.May 21, 2012 at 3:31 pm #1879928
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Rough spot to be in but, from my own groups experience with Grand Canyon rangers, they tend to get formal in crowded conditions (if even a peg is outside the designated campsite, it's a ticket as an unfortunate buddy found out). If they let one person off with a warning, news spreads. Of course they have walkie-talkies and no one is getting out of the canyon easily.
You could not give her the ID or just rip the ticket up, but you'd probably get rousted at midnight when her backup showed up (more rangers, sheriffs, and/or state troopers). Same thing happened to a family I know who violated a fire ban while carcamping; law enforcement waited for them to go asleep and then woke them up.
Still better than having a civilian caretaker brandish a shotgun while waiting for a sheriff, as happened with yet another buddy of mine straying onto private land of a major corporation.May 21, 2012 at 5:38 pm #1879975
Stephen MBPL Member
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
Nothing to do with your expereince but I just ust moved to the US from Europe so no experience before with Rangers.
I hiked the Pictured Rocks Trail in Michigans Upper Peninsula in late March with fellow BPL member Rog Wilmers, we had left the car and bike trailer at the start of Trail and left a motorbike at the end of the trail.
While Rog went off on the bike to collect the car I was waiting outside a closed Ranger station for him to come back.
After an hour or so an Armed Ranger turned up and asked what I was up too, she was very pleasand and asked was I warm enough and hung around for 10 minutes for a chat.
For me it was a weird experience to see a Ranger with a gun but Rog explained to me why armed Rangers are needed.May 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm #1880007
Mike MBPL Member
you always have an option of pleading not guilty, of course that can involve time and travel, but always an option- if there are truly mitigating circumstances then there is a chance that the citation could be dismissed or the fine waived or lowered
if you felt that the Ranger's people skills were lacking, certainly calling/writing/emailing her supervisor is an option
things definitely not to- refuse to hand over your ID, tear ticket up or any other such nonsenseMay 21, 2012 at 8:21 pm #1880028
Trace RichardsonBPL Member
@tracedefLocale: Southern California
If I was in that position I would consider the only option to be to suck it up and own it. There's a reason they're out there and there's a reason the rules are what they are. Maybe the ranger could have been more cordial, but who knows what Aholes they have to deal with day in and day out that blatantly break rules, harm the environment, litter, poach, etc. They're also usually outmanned, which means they sometimes they're on the defensive when there are large numbers of you and one of them.
A ranger with a crappy attitude and lack of preparation can happen to anyone and if I knowingly break the rules, as much as it sucks when there might be very few alternatives, I'm going to own it if I get caught. My two cents. Lesson learned and we move on.May 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm #1880030
Steven ParisBPL Member
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
"If you felt that the Ranger's people skills were lacking, certainly calling/writing/emailing her supervisor is an option. Things definitely not to (do) – refuse to hand over your ID, tear ticket up or any other such nonsense."
With the dismal condition of federal & state funding for those who work at protecting OUR public lands, we need to hold ourselves above that behavior, even if it feels like civil disobedience at the time. Who knows what the ranger had to do that day/in the days preceding before she got to the point of writing a ticket.
That said, I would also be mad and that would ruin my day. $100.00 seems very steep for that kind of offense, given the mitigating factors.
Edit: Trace beat me to it.May 22, 2012 at 6:29 am #1880073
I agree about owning it if the rule was clearly posted somewhere. No signs at the lean-to, DEC site has no mention of it, and so far, no one another site can seem to provide the rule either.
So own up to what.. $100 harrassment?
I haven't seen a single Ranger on the trails in the Cats for the past 2-3 years and not a single one ever in winter. As for illegal sites n fire rings… they have been popping up everywhere directly on the trails.. go bust those folks! Camping in a lean-to site seems to be the right thng to do since it is a designated camping area n should be legal by any reasonable thought process.
I still want to see the rule!
.May 22, 2012 at 7:09 am #1880085
John S.BPL Member
This may give insight but may not be your location. It's from a 1999 publication http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/hpwump.pdf
"CAMPSITE DESIGNATION PROGRAMS
High levels of use concentrated in the Lake Colden basin caused significant resource and social problems in the 1970's. Commencing in 1979, DEC began a designated campsite program there to disperse use. Visitors were required to camp at designated sites only. No impromptu camping was permitted unless it was 150 feet or more away from a trail, water, or designated site. This technique was used to increase the distance between parties and to avoid concentrated use around Lean-to locations.:
"The maximum capacity of any lean-to site (including associated tent camping) shall not exceed 8 persons in the eastern and western High Peaks zone and shall not exceed 12 persons along the Adirondack Canoe Route."
"It is a well established management axiom that lean-tos also attract substantial peripheral tent camping in their vicinity. In this case, the lean-tos serve as destination points acting as magnets to tent campers who utilize the same site. This creates an over use situation at the site exacerbating environmental and social impacts. The normal capacity of a lean-to is six persons and combined with tent campers, many of these sites exceed 30 persons from more than one group."May 22, 2012 at 8:52 am #1880116
That is quoted from a huge manaul, a proposal to implement a program.. not the rules posted on the DEC site for the Catskills or even posted at trail heads in the park. To find that you would have to do so much digging.. doesn't that say something baout this rule? Also most people won't go n read every proposal n land use manual of thousands of pages to find out the rules of a park, we use the DEC site's rules.. we aren't lawyers, just campers.
Generally parks post signs, issue hand outs, put up "no camping" disks post rules on their web page fro all to see. If it is not posted, perhaps the ranger should have issued a warning instead of escalating to a ticket regardless of the PO attitude?
I've been roaming the Catskills for 40 years, this is a first. Well so far no one has come up with anything n we are beating a dead horse. I'm out exclusively in winter n never see rangers let alone people so I really don't give a hoot, jsut trying to clear this up for others. All I can say is watch out, big daddy is gunna getcha.
OH in NYC smoking at public beaches n parks is not allowed anymore. Does this apply in the state parks as well? Watch your butts!
.May 22, 2012 at 11:01 am #1880150
Terry GBPL Member
@delvxeLocale: Pacific Northwest
I sympathize and am sorry for that experience; I am sure I would also steam about that for a bit before sucking it up. I would try to sympathize with her who may have been directed by her supervisors to cite folks without discretion. I personally would hate that task.May 22, 2012 at 9:07 pm #1880286
because a Park Ranger with a badge was asking for it. refusing that is actually an arrestable offense, unfortunately. I wasn't trying to create problems, I was just trying to sleep in the spot that would cause the least new damage to the area, being that it was a boulder field next to a swamp in between two cliffs. I thought I was taking the lesser of two evils here, but obviously there wasn't really a best option.May 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm #1880288
Well I appreciate the insight from all the comments. A few things to address:
We were well aware of the 150 feet from the trail rule, which was clearly posted in multiple places, along with info about not camping above 3500 feet. Ironically, the only flat spots seem to be on top of the mountains above 3500 feet or within 150 feet from the trail, which, for good reason, follows the small amount of flat ground available along the route.
Yes, forest rangers in NY are badged and basically are another form of police. Refusing to show your ID is a detainable offense in NY and I wanted to keep hiking.
The ticket could be anywhere from "zero to $250" and the judge decides the fine, with no info given on what base. It sounds like they get to do what they want.
Greg, your analogy is silly. I was camped in a boulder field next to a swamp in between two extremely steep mountains. There was no flat ground more than 150 feet from the trail and the shelter was full. Imagine a grid where the edges and the center are cliffs and the trail, and nowhere on that grid is there flat ground or even clear ground without boulders, more than 150 feet from the trail.
We later learned that we could have headed in yet another direction down the hill and toward the road and camped right on the darn trail there, because that land is just outside the state park and so they didn't care.
The major disappointment here is that the ranger blew the opportunity to educate everyone camping there about where they could have camped instead and why, and she also blew the opportunity to discuss the marshmallows and food scraps left all over the place by the very friendly, yet completely uneducated group at the lean to. That was a real danger because of bears and animals coming for the food. She didn't take the opportunity to educate people on hanging bear barrels or ask them where their food was stashed. Every time I've run into rangers in the campgrounds in the ADK mtns they are super friendly, they tend to check with everyone on their food and water and camping situations in an educational way, and when they find people doing things wrong, they tend to gather people to discuss things and make it right.
Finally it was also a real disappointment to realize this is really about the money and not about the environment, which is why I would want rangers out patrolling and ticketing in the first place. If not for the environment, why would the 150 foot rule exist? Why would she not care about the impact on the site and the food lying around?
Anyway its really over in my mind, I'll be pleading guilty with a note to the judge about how I never intended to break the law but ended up doing it anyway. Its worth more in time to not go to court, and I really don't have much of a defense. I will then, after my judgement and fine, write a letter to the DEC about this ranger, even if it does nothing but make me feel better. Its not worth continuing to ruminate over, and I'm looking forward to a better time in the ADKs this weekend. Too bad the catskill towns will never make a dime from the 4-5 hikers that visited the area that weekend again :)May 23, 2012 at 4:52 am #1880341
Donna CBPL Member
@leadfootLocale: Middle Virginia
Eric…I hike and camp the Shenandoah's regularly and there is no park rule that says you have to camp at the shelters. I always stealth camp out there. The rangers know me because of my frequency there..have even shown me places to camp on their maps. What the shelter rules say is they are for the thru hikers first and not for anyone else.May 23, 2012 at 5:14 am #1880343
As quoted severeal times
Originally Posted by UMP
Special Wilderness Recreational Activity
! Camping will not be permitted above
3,500 feet in elevation from March
22nd to December 21st each year to
protect the fragile high elevation
environment. To further protect
natural resources and the quality of
the recreational experiences for
visitors, camping will be prohibited
within 150 feet of trail, road and water,
except at sites designated by the
The 150' rule doesn
't apply at designated DEC sites. A lean-to is a designated camping spot n generally have tent overflow areas for tents.. or at least they once were. Now they are ticketing tents near the lean-to? That is obserd! If I were you, I'd fight it n bring all the DEC rules they post to the public n let em prove you violated one of their rules as there is no mention ion any of em about tents near a lean-to. Also loking for a site in th edark is dangerous. Suppose this lean-to was the second one you visited n thus the reason for coming in so late? Being reasonable is all you have to prove.
Perhpas the judge will see the logic n let you slide.
Good l;uck n let us know what the verdict is?
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