The Hoosier National Forest is home to rolling hills, towering trees, waterfalls and dozens of species of fauna and flora. But the public land in some spots is now being overused and damaged.
Some roadside campsites may be closed along Hickory Ridge Road within the Hoosier National Forest after unorderly campers, overuse and rogue campsites caused damage. Of the 19, a new proposal would retain nine campsites, shut down eight and repurpose two for small parking lots for hikers.
“It reaches a point where you want folks to enjoy the forest, but we have to manage the land responsibly,” Forest Recreation Program Manager Stacy Duke said. “These actions will hopefully mitigate some of the issues that we’re having with with overuse and resource damage.”
The Hoosier National Forest is over 200,000 acres, spanning nine counties and comprising about half of the public forest land in the state. The affected area of Hickory Ridge Road is in the northern part of the forest just south of Lake Monroe. The forest offers free dispersed roadside campsites on a first come, first served basis.
These affected campsites are considered “primitive,” meaning there are no resources like electricity or water. However, Duke said some of the sites were not in a sustainable place to be protected. That means there may be an area designated for wildlife or other environmental factors make it unsuitable.
Some of these sites have human-created damage. Trash left behind is one problem, but Duke said she has seen whole campsites left behind. Past campers have tried to cut trees at some sites, she said, and their cars and trucks have compacted the soil.
In the past, Duke said “user created campsites” sprung up in the area, but the Forest Service allowed it. This new plan is meant to promote better recreational opportunities and use of the area, she said. Sites that are still open would be marked with clear signage indicating whether camping is allowed and how to properly use the site. Posts would also be added to distinguish camping and parking areas as well as gravel for parking and campsite entryways.
Duke said the hope is the effort and new improvements will indicate to campers how to correctly use the sites and that the area is monitored. This will likely reduce dumping and vandalism, she said.
The Forest Service intends to rehab some sites by adding top soil and wood chips. Damage to foliage, like trees, will take longer to grow back.
Jeff Stant has seen this damage himself and how increasingly popular the area has become since the ’70s and especially in the past decade. He’s seen campsites with cars parked too far off the road, trees cut up from axes and lots of trash left behind. But, he also has seen people respect the land and leave those spaces clean.
“It’s just because of the high volume of users, you get kind of a diversity of results,” Stant said. “There’s no question, I’ve seen areas where they’re damaging the woods. They’re not showing enough respect for the woods.”
As executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance, he said he thinks the proposal needs to be implemented. Despite the damage, he said, the overuse shows Hoosiers love and want to experience these green spaces.
“There’s kind of not many of them in Indiana,” he said. “So it makes it really important for people who use them to be respectful because we don’t have a lot of wilderness in the state.”
Sites offering primitive camping should not be done away with, Stant said. Sometimes, he said, people need spaces to get away from urban life and other, more dense and developed campgrounds. Stant said the wilderness can easily be abused when too many people want to use the land and there isn’t as much oversight.
Trail 19 will be transformed to allow both hiking and biking and could serve as an alternate to the popular Sycamore Trail. Parking will be added by the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower and Trail 19. Parking construction resulting from the proposal would not cut trees larger than 3 inches in diameter at a specific height and the current surface area of the site will not be expanded.
The proposal is in the public comment scoping period, so people are encouraged to give feedback on this proposal.
Emails can be sent to email@example.com, and mail can be addressed to 811 Constitution Ave. in Bedford, IN 47421. The USDA asks people to include their name, address and phone number with “Hickory Ridge Dispersed Sites Proposed Project” as the subject line. Comments must be submitted though these avenues to be considered part of the official public record.
Afterward, there are a few more steps for approval, including the sign off of the district ranger. The proposal, which has been under consideration for better management for years, might see approval as early as late summer or early fall.