The Cost of “Free”

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.”

Categories: Adirondacks | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “The Cost of “Free”

  1. People who camp in wilderness sites don’t seem to wonder how all the amenities got there and who maintains them. We have some wilderness sites around one lake. Just to clean the fire pits and pick up litter can take a whole day.

    I would like small permanent signs that say, “This site built and maintained with our tax dollars.” Maybe there is better wording but a reminder would be nice.

    • I like it! 😆 I sometimes think they believe that it magically appeared there. Having seen the replacement lean-to’s being readied to go out 5 miles into the woods on a trail, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s expensive. As in “they had to use a helicopter to get them out there” expensive. Impressive to watch, though.

  2. I am very pleased to see this post and thank you for it.

    I like the sign idea, too. Maybe placed by volunteers?

    In addition to the considerable expense of creating campsites, we have their maintenance. I sadly report a case of a very nice new campsite DEC created around 2010 and nature has all but completely reclaimed it, for lack of maintenance attention, blow-down-clobbered access, and, I believe, shortcomings in its construction.

    I’d like to see the DEC Adopt-A-Natural-Resource Stewardship Program (AANR) and Volunteer Stewardship Agreements (VSA) more conspicuously promoted to the general public. Most people never heard of them.

    • I unfortunately get to see this a lot. Early this spring when I was out surveying a lake, my assistant pointed to what looked like a building on the shore, where there shouldn’t have been one. It was only because the leaves hadn’t come out yet that we saw it at all. It turned out to be an old “back to back” double outhouse, and there was also a pretty nice stone fireplace there. Apparently, at one time there had been a hunting camp there, which had been turned into a wilderness camping site, only now “abandoned.” The forest ranger for the area had no idea that it even was there, and he’s been in this area for years. We were able to find some “old timers” who told us about it. On the flip side, there’s a couple of leantos not too far away which are very popular (part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail), and they’re beat to hell, simply because they’re overused and not enough people to keep them checked and repaired.

  3. Reminds me of a huge hunting blind … a small cabin, really, with a giant shooting slot … that I stumbled onto recently, perched overlooking a bowl of sparse hardwoods a few hundred feet across. Turns out, when I got home and studied the maps more carefully, that it sits on a very small patch of un-posted private property submerged within state land. I found it during a bushwhack. Didn’t look around inside it because I was on the far side of the bowl and on a mission to get somewhere else before losing daylight.

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