“One thing that I think is critical to point out is that Middle Fork was not acquired to provide people with a place to camp,” said Mark Hadley, the Northern Region Outreach Manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “That was never the area’s purpose.”
Hadley is talking about the Middle Fork WMA just west of Ogden, Utah, and not far from Salt Lake City. Like so many other areas, especially those with easy access from major metro areas, Middle Fork has seen a boom in visitors. With that have come issues of litter and negative impacts to the wildlife and wildlife habitat. As a result, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced a camping closure for part of the Middle Fork from January 1 through September 9, 2021.
Much of the damage and issues happen near the main parking for the protected area. Along with the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, DWR has responded to 75 calls for various issues.
“The sheer number of people who visit the area to camp has also damaged habitat in the area surrounding the parking lot and a small creek not far from it,” said Scott Walker, a regional habitat manager for DWR, in a press release.
The campground is popular on Campendium as well, with more than a dozen reviews. Many reviewers applaud the free campground’s quick access to other popular nearby spots.
Both Walker and Hadley emphasize that Utah’s wildlife management areas were designed to protect wildlife such as deer. Wildlife management areas are something Utah has had in place since the 1940s, and much of their funding comes from those who buy fishing and hunting licenses to use on the property. This also helps them regulate the land to protect those important resources. Camping has simply been part of the allowed uses on some of these properties, that is, until it becomes an issue.
As a result of the problems at Middle Fork, DWR is putting new rules in place for camping to help restore the damaged areas and protect them for wildlife. There’s a heavy emphasis on managing the number of visitors at the entrance.
According to a press release, the rules in place are:
- The entire area is closed from January 1 to the second Saturday in April to protect wildlife in the winter.
- Once it reopens in April, camping returns; however, visitors can no longer camp in the parking lot or within a third of a mile of the lot. This policy runs through the summer until September 9.
- Finally, from September 10 until December 31, the entire area is open to camping again, including the parking lot.
Officials with DWR insist the new restrictions still allow for plenty of camping opportunities, including the North Fork County Park just outside of Liberty, Utah.
“Even though it sees lots of use, North Fork is a big campground,” Walker said in a release. “Officials with Weber County have told us that camping spots are almost always available.”
You can find more free camping opportunities all over Utah on Campendium.