One of the things that many people have come to expect in their visiting here is “free camping.” There are spots called “wilderness camping sites” which offer a convenient stopping point for those on hiking or canoe trips, and in various wilderness areas. They’re not much for amenities. They consist of a pit privy (an outhouse), a fire ring, and depending on the particular site, a clear spot to pitch a tent or a lean-to. They’re popular with a set of people, particularly those who want to “get away from it all” or those who just want to camp “for free.” What none of them ever consider is the cost of those sites.
Over on my political blog a while back I talked about some of this, but on this blog I’m going to talk about what happens when those “free sites” have to be made, and their costs.
Let’s start with the outhouse. Sounds pretty simple and cheap, right? Well, it costs about $400 in materials and labor to build the kit. The kit consists of a base, floor, walls, door, seat, and roof.
All have to be made, and they have to be built to a specific set of measurements and using materials that will last a while. They’re not “commercially available.” The expected lifespan for one is 20 years. Then comes the next set of costs. That kit has to be moved out to where it’s needed, a hole dug, and the kit put together to create the pit privy. Having done it, I can state it’s not a one person job. For one thing, the completed kit weighs around 150 pounds. It takes two (usually 4) people to do it. At least two hours for that, and that’s if there’s not much traveling and the hole is relatively easy to dig. Neither of which is usually the case. A “good day” is if you can get two done, and a “bad day” can take the entire day.
Then comes the fire ring. There are two types. The first has a metal ring with a grate on a concrete base, the second is a ring of rocks. Both of them have their advantages and disadvantages, but they’re both “not cheap.” The concrete base is constructed using around 9 bags of concrete mix cast into a 3′ X 3′ form, with the metal ring hinge cast into the concrete. That means someone had to move nine 80 pound bags to that point, along with the ring and all the materials needed to mix the concrete and pour it. It’s not easy, and it takes some time to do it right. Then they have to go back in a couple of days to remove the form. So you’re talking two people working 4 to 6 hours, and around $100 of materials. The stone ring is “cheaper” in that it involves just building the circle of stone – sometimes with mortar, sometimes without – from what’s in the area. You still have to clear the area of any “duff soil,” and move all those stones over. It takes a few hours to do it.
So that primitive tent site adds up to around $1000 to construct. What if there’s a lean-to? That’s expensive. The materials are a few thousand dollars, along with the labor – and sometimes airlift – to get it all to where it’s needed, and the labor to build it.
That’s part of the cost that people don’t think about. The other part is maintenance. You see, someone checks on these sites fairly regularly, and every couple of years you need to move the outhouse to a new hole. Which again means people to go out and dig the hole and lift the (very) heavy outhouse to its new site. Fire rings tend to deteriorate from use, or people damaging them, so they need repair or replacement. Lean-to’s need someone to go out and repair the roofs, replace bad boards, or sometimes just put a new coat of stain on them. All of which is labor intensive, and yes, costs money.
All of that is something that most people don’t realize, or think about. You may not be charged for using it, but it most definitely was never “free.”