Scenic places across the U.S. have seen an increase in outdoor recreational use due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Grand Teton National Park and its surrounding areas in Wyoming. According to Scott Kosiba, executive director of Friends of Bridger-Teton, the only forest-wide, non-profit partner of Bridger-Teton National Forest, this has exacerbated an issue that was already brewing—the impacts of overuse at Toppings Lake and Shadow Mountain dispersed camping areas.
“Toppings and Shadow Mountain are, in my opinion, some of our premier dispersed camping areas,” says Kosiba. “The views that you get of the Grand Tetons and the valley below are really unparalleled.”
While the views into the national forest and park are stunning, what Kosiba and Bridger-Teton Forest rangers were finding on the ground in 2020 was not. The garbage littering the dispersed camping areas was bad enough, but the piles of human waste were worse.
“[That] was our pivotal moment when we realized that we needed to make some change in these dispersed camping areas,” says Kosiba.
The Camping Community Comes Together
When Campendium learned that the dispersed camping areas at Toppings Lake and Shadow Mountain were at risk of potential closure, we approached Friends of the Bridger-Teton to ask how we could help.
Partnering to install vault toilets at both locations was a natural choice for alleviating the issues of improperly disposed-of human waste. There were no federal funds available to boost infrastructure at dispersed camping areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and the total cost of installing both toilets was estimated at around $55,000.
To help raise the money, we sent out a crowdsourcing request via the Campendium newsletter. We were thrilled by the generous and passionate response from the camping community, who pitched in to keep these special camping areas open.
Dometic, an outdoor product manufacturer, made a $25,000 matching donation to help cover the cost of the vault toilets. Within about a month, more than 300 individuals and businesses—including Campendium and Airstream, through the National Forest Foundation—donated the remaining necessary funds.
Once the fundraising goal had been met, Friends of the Bridger-Teton posted on social media, “This infrastructure is critical to protect the resource, protect our watersheds, and improve the visitor experience” at some of Bridger-Teton National Forest’s most popular camping areas.
In June 2021, using the donated funds, Friends of the Bridger-Teton oversaw the installation of vault toilets at Toppings Lake and Shadow Mountain. The organization also pledged to maintain the bathrooms, at an annual cost of $5,000 per toilet (on-site donation boxes help offset this cost).
“We’ve seen a really dramatic decrease in the amount of human waste that we’re finding in these areas, and that does just wonders. We’re confident that this area is going to be cleaner, safer, and more enjoyable for recreationists now and also for generations to come,” says Kosiba.
Other Mitigating Measures
Vault toilets aren’t the only measure in place to help mitigate impacts at Toppings Lake and Shadow Mountain. Bridger-Teton National Forest has implemented designated dispersed campsites, stay limits during peak seasons, and increased signage, including installing a sign to let campers know if an area is full. There are also volunteer camping ambassadors on-site during the busy summer season.
While Toppings Lake and Shadow Mountain are two of the most popular camping areas in one of the most popular U.S. national parks, other dispersed camping areas see more use now than ever before. Camping on these public lands comes with extra responsibility, as the community works to keep the dispersed camping experience open for all to enjoy.
- Always camp in an established campsite.
- Never expand the footprint of a campsite.
- Dispose of all waste, including human waste, properly.
- Enjoy responsible campfires.
- Leave your campsite better than you found it.
Thank you to the Campendium community, Dometic, Airstream, the National Forest Foundation, and Friends of the Bridger-Teton for working together to create a sustainable solution for waste management at Toppings Lake and Shadow Mountain.
Campendium is part of a joint venture, partially owned by THOR Industries, Inc., of which Airstream is a subsidiary.