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In the 21st century, where does a mountain man go?

Dear Action Line: Recent stories have discussed a rise in campers living in the national forest. There has been a travel trailer parked in a U.S. Forest Service campground in La Plata Canyon for more than a year. Yes, a year. Its resident is obviously living there, with his food and human waste accumulating, and becoming beyond disgusting. He has felled multiple trees, both living and dead. Recently, he has welcomed buddies to camp nearby, also overstaying the 14-day limit. I’m told that both Forest Service law enforcement and La Plata County Sheriff’s Office have contacted him, but he’s still there. What gives? – Miffed in Mayday

Jeremiah Johnson

Dear Miffed: Gosh, remember the old days when, if you wanted to get away from it all, you could just hike up into the mountains and live off the land like Jeremiah Johnson? What, you don’t remember Jeremiah Johnson? He was a famous mountain man played by Robert Redford in a recent film. “Recent” meaning the last half-century. Like 1972.

Jeremiah had a few problems, what with the Crows and Blackfeet on his bad side, and the military insisting he help them, and the wolves and the bears to contend with. But other than that he just had to trap and fish and learn how to keep warm by sleeping on dirt poured over hot coals. (Maybe Action Line is mixing up mountain man movies.) It looked like tons of fun. Never mind the unwelcome intrusion on traditional Native American land.

Does “Jeremiah Johnson” – directed by Sydney Pollack and filmed in Utah, incidentally – hold up in the 21st century? It wasn’t all black and white with “good guys” and “bad guys.” Someone watch it and report back to Action Line please.

The lifestyle of our modern-day Jeremiah Johnson up in La Plata Canyon is a bit different, but still not that simple. Kudos to him surviving up there, but he’s definitely breaking some rules and taking up some space that others might want to use. And, if true, the tree-felling and waste accumulation is, let’s say, unfortunate.

There is a 14-day maximum rule for recreational camping in the San Juan National Forest, but residential use of the national forest is never allowed under any circumstance. (Adobe Stock)

“Law enforcement has been in contact with the individual, and they are working toward removal of the camp,” said Lorena Williams, public affairs specialist and partnership coordinator with the San Juan National Forest. “The vehicle is no longer operational and cannot be driven away, and the USFS cannot tow private property.”

There is a 14-day maximum rule for recreational camping, but residential use of the National Forest is never allowed under any circumstance, she said. La Plata Canyon is in the San Juan forest’s Columbine Ranger District, where there is one law enforcement officer.

“The actual regulation is that a recreational camper can stay a maximum of 14 days in one spot,” she said. “After 14 days they must move at least 3 air miles and then they may camp for an additional 14 days. After their 28th day they must vacate the San Juan National Forest.”

Residential use of the San Juan National Forest generally occurs out of perceived necessity by those who can’t afford to buy or rent a home – and only in rare circumstances for the same reasons that Jeremiah Johnson headed for the hills. Williams said this is a community issue.

“We are working with law enforcement, human services providers and the community to provide information and support to those in need,” she said. “We are also working to better educate the public of the rules concerning camping limitations on national forest lands.”

Dear Action Line: I really appreciate the information on snowpack (average snow-water equivalent) that appears at the bottom of The Durango Herald’s Weather Watch in the print edition. But I find it disturbing and odd that the historical snow-water data for the forthcoming months is hidden. The big black box that contains the most current snowpack amount covers the upcoming info in the chart. – Blinded by the Box

Dear Blinded: Action Line believes there is a conspiracy, and that this black box is covering up data that the Weather Service doesn’t want you to see. Looks like the Herald might be in on this, too.

Upon further inspection, a look at this chart from just about any perspective is pretty scary. That black box can’t hide it. We haven’t had much moisture in the last few years. You’d need a really big black box to cover that up. The winter of 2018-19 was pretty good, but other than that, the ol’ snowblower has been pretty quiet.

The Herald staff has been informed of the issue and will move the box so the data, such as it is, will be more visible. Thanks for your inquiry.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. One final thought to chew on: The real Jeremiah Johnson was called “Liver-Eating Johnson,” and the reader can use his or her imagination from there. Or just consult Wikipedia.

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