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new burden with Eastern Sierra wilderness permits

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new burden with Eastern Sierra wilderness permits

Postby SSSdave » Tue Aug 22, 2006 8:22 pm

This summer there has been a change on entry policies to Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP through Inyo NF trails that require a permit reservee to appear in person at the Inyo ranger stations or visitor centers when they pick up permits. What that means is no more putting wilderness permits in night boxes at those stations which had been the status quo for quite a number of years. In the past we would drive say to Bishop by late in the evening, stop by the White Mountain Ranger Station, grab one's already written up permit, sign it, take the copy, and drive up to someplace like the Peabodies to disperse camp overnight. At sunrise, we'd drive up to trailheads like South Lake and by 6am be on our way up the trail towards Bishop Pass. A nice cool time to start hiking I and I'm sure many others prefer.

Well no more if one is going to cross into the national parks across the crest. That is so the NF wilderness office person can give us the face to face chat about policies like LNT, bear cannisters, and the like. Apparently some backcountry rangers have had cases of confronting groups entering through Inyo that had made night box pick ups, that not surprisingly never bothered to read the usual attached policy sheet, entered the parks, and proved themselves to be morons to the rangers. So the solution to that from the park superintendent was for all Inyo entries to get a real indoctrination instead of just picking up the permit. For those that live about the Owens that is little inconvenience as they can simply pick up their permit the afternoon before the starting date. However for the weekend m-f 8-5 person working peon down in one of our California urban land of jobs, driving in on Friday evening that means they arrive well after the stations close so are forced to wait till a station opens which is typically 8am or such, go through the permit pickup ritual with chat, and then spend most of an hour driving to one of the trailheads before starting up the trail. Of course at 9am or 10am the warming sun has been up a few hours and hiking at the lower levels often sucks. A backpacker going up Shepherd or Taboose in that situation would quickly puke after getting out of their car.

So yesterday after securing a permit on the phone with Inyo NF to go over Lamarck Col this Labor Day period, I was confronted by this situation I'd earlier caught wind of and instead of telling the fib that I was just going to stay east of the crest since I prefer to be the honest type, came out and admitted I was going down into Darwin Canyon. The permit person immediately blurted out I needed to pick up the permit in person. I explained how I've been actively climbing and backpacking over 3 decades having listened to the policies several times each season, read the manual recently, etc thus this policy will be a huge hindrance. The NF person explained they have no flexibility with the NP dictates which was no surprise. Somewhat irritated, I then contacted the SEKI wilderness office, leaving a message. This morning a person there returned my call and we calmly discussed the policy for about ten minutes. The result was a name and number of one of the higher ups in the parks organization that is responsible for making those policies. So I'm now in the position of having some type of discussion with one of the SEKI higher ups and would like some input from some of you other backpacking enthusiasts. At least I'm expecting some of you ought to be concerned about this too. Hopefully I might skillfully suggest something that will eventually make them modify the policy.

The reality with backpacking groups is the one person that picks up a permit is not likely to have a session at a trailhead explaining to others in their group whatever the policy sheet says nor what the wilderness office person related. It is true if the leader is someone like me that while on the trip, if I see some novice doing something unnacceptable that I would try and educate them. And if there was anything special about the trip area like no fire or camping areas, I would likely say a bit sometime during a break. But in most groups that just doesn't happen. So the new policy is hardly a solution if the intent is to indoctrinate backcountry users with these policies because just talking to the one person picking up a permit is likely missing everyone else. There are other ways to improve the communication of those policies to users however penalizing the 90% of we experienced users, making us waste valuable time on our limited weekends or vacation time is hardly a reasonable situation we ought to be burdened by. So I hope some of you can make some inputs that will give me some more representitive ideas across our backpacking community about how we feel about the situation and possible solutions that will satisfy the park's objectives and lessen our own burden with the process. ...David

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Postby quentinc » Tue Aug 22, 2006 9:32 pm

David, I share your frustration. In fact, I'm surprised they even bothered to give you contact info for someone "higher up."

I think the real problems in the backcountry come from people who may have heard what the rules are but don't care, and break them anyway. No number of mindless lectures at the ranger station are going to change those people. And if they are caught in the act, they will probably claim ignorance of the rules as a natural defense mechanism.

Not that I would necessarily share this with the NPS guy, but the people at the ranger stations hardly engender respect for the rules. Their pathetic lack of knowledge of the backcountry always amazes me (they usually haven't heard of many of the places where I plan to camp, for instance, and put down something that sounds similar but is completely different on my permit).
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Postby markskor » Tue Aug 22, 2006 9:48 pm

Well at least they picked the right person to make a well-educated response. Good luck.

With all the modern computer technology available today, it seem logical that some record of a person's back country Sierra experience should be easy to pull up...history...number of times up...trails...etc. I know that in Yosemite they have such a program; I know, I saw least I saw that there was a record that my address is ---, and the last time I was up was three times this summer, four times last year, etc.

It would seem that after ten or more times in the backcountry it would appear logical that that same person has heard the same speech umpteen times before and would not need to hear it all again. Maybe after obtaining a certain number of permits, once a person has signed up once in person at the wilderness office, then subsequently in other hikes, a number could be assigned, a form letter RSVP via e-mail would identify us. Then, after this one detailed registration, a dispensation could be given via "snail mail"...signed and dated...(notarized?)...and the actual permits could then sent beforehand, but only after you pass muster once in person. I would even pay a few dollars for this "extra work"...should not be too tuff. (Maybe they could provide an embossed card, a password, or even a secret handshake?)

Any special or new statutes could be included in this missive....special regulations, bear perils, fire restrictions, or any other pertinent information on the intended trail.
I agree that education is necessary for all, but having to do it again and again takes time...both ours and theirs...maybe it is time that the “wilderness powers that be” jump into the 21 century and work with us, not against.
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Postby caddis » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:54 am

The Wilderness permit process is the single most annoying, inconvenient, bureaucratic aspect of takes the wilderness experience out of wilderness experience :\

As far as I can figure wilderness permits are issued for two reasons: 1) to limit the amount of traffic on high-use trails 2) to give the forest or park service a count of how many people use the trail and at what times of the year. (statistical data)

now it's devolved into a big-brother control process. Daddy gubmint knows best and needs to educated the ignorant masses (bear canisters-food storage, camp fire rules, days-locations in case Daddy needs to rescue you, wildlife advice,...the list will only increase) I'm tired of leaving a day earlier then I'd like in order to get the permit before the office closes or leaving 3 hours later then needed for the same reasons. This year was no exception (twice) and SEKI was worse. We left with plenty of time to make it to the visitors center thinking this is the natural location to pick up a permit (after all, it does have electricity and a computer) but after wasting 30-40 minutes in line to get into the park (eventhough we had a pass) then wasting 30 more minutes at the V center) we were told the only way to get a permit was at trails-ends. Which closes at 4:00 (we made it 10 minutes too late) They couldn't call ahead because there was no contact and the 3 people in the office we talked to all had conflicting information and knowledge.....nice to know these office folks are the ones that have to educate us trail-fools.

Every different wilderness trail entry seems to have a different set of rules: Permits in a box on the trail, permits issued in multiple locations, permits on computer, permits left in any location you desire as long as you forked over the bucks for for a reservation (what's up with charging per-person instead of per-permit?), free here-$15 bucks there,....

there's my rant for the day....feels good to finally be able to log on :)
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Postby calipidder » Wed Aug 23, 2006 10:14 am

Dave, good luck. I agree with markskor - it is a waste of not only the hiker's time, but the agency's time, to go through the same schpiel over and over again. Some way of identifying 'regular' users would be beneficial to both sides. I don't claim to know every regulation for every area, but there are some areas that I hike in where I probably know more than the ranger giving the 'permit lecture'. Since I have to go in anyways, I try to come up with some specific questions to help in planning my next trip - such as road and trail conditions, where it is legal to park, camp, etc. And 90% of the time they can't answer anything other than regurgitate the same regulations (um....I think you can camp there, maybe, but it's over 10,000 feet so I know you can't have campfires!!) :\ Last winter we were nearly ticketed by CHP for parking in a pullout on HW50 - both the ranger at Pacific House *and* the Xcountry skiing literature created by the Forest Service had identified this as a legal parking area! CHP confirmed that it wasn't.... how am I supposed to trust the information I am given after that? Luckily we had the FS sheet printed out so he didn't give us a ticket, but he said he'd make sure they stop giving out incorrect information. (Note to self: check this winter's handouts to see if it has been changed).

Of course, I know that regulations can change from season to season and that requires educating the 'regulars' as well as the casual users. But the regulars are likely to be more informed of these things on their own...for example, even though I hike in bear country regularly, I check the regulations before every hike just to make sure I'm not missing any new information.
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Postby giantbrookie » Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:20 am


I share your frustration and I've had to go through this in Seki costing me precious time in kicking off two death marches. And it is the time that kills us. Waiting for the bloody place to open, and then standing in line to hear the ranger recite the same thing to the folks ahead of us. There was even a golden age of reservation-by-phone east side permits when they'd MAIL us the filled in permits, so we didn't even have to worry about picking them up from the drop box. I think this is particularly critical for some of the east side trips, because one is commonly starting at low altitude (Shepherd, Baxter, Taboose, Sawmill et al.) and wants to get up to altitude as quickly as possible to beat the heat going up the brutal grade. With the current system, by the time you've left Bishop or Lone Pine it's already starting to get warm.

I also agree with those above who've said that the USFS/NPS ought to have electronic records so that they can tell the difference between someone who has done a gazillion trips versus someone getting their first wilderness permit.
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Postby dave54 » Wed Aug 23, 2006 12:01 pm

There are alternatives the the NPS has not yet explored.

The permits can be completed on line but not able to be printed until the applicant completes an interactive on-line course. The private sector has been doing similar for years, and the FS has been trying to implement similar. Technical problems have slowed the FS implementation. I don't believe the NPS has even considered it.
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Postby copeg » Wed Aug 23, 2006 12:53 pm

SSSDave, I commend you on your determination to let your voice be heard.

I too agree with most of what the others have said, in that it is quite annoying to not be able to pick your permit during 'off hours'. Although I believe the intention is for the best, if seems to be not the most ideal, especially since it isn't taken into account how many times many of us have heard the lectures and received the handouts.

Dave54 brings up a great idea - to have an online application with an online interactive course that allows people to bypass the need to pick up the permit during office hours.
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Postby nazdarovye » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:05 pm

I completely agree with the technology solutions to making sure people have either demonstrated their compliance and knowledge, or have taken an interactive course giving them the same lecture the permit issuers give.

This doesn't guarantee compliance, but it's a good way to get the information out, and would streamline the process greatly.

Of course, all this costs money, and my experience through my own software company is that government work has to go through bidding and crazy regulations before it ever gets implemented. I won't hold my breath to see this happen, though I salute the idea and will happily contribute toward making some noise to get it considered. Let me know whom to contact...

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Postby AldeFarte » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:14 pm

Ditto's to all the above. This kind of horse pucky tends to make bona fide lawbreakers out of otherwise honest people. jls :o
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