Steve Searles spoke as a private citizen.

Locked up too soon?  That was the question raised before the Mammoth Town Council about Forest Service camping facilities in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.

Mammoth Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles stood up during public comment to speak as a private citizen.  He pointed out that he probably spends more time in the Lakes Basin than anyone else while he surveys bear activity there.  Searles told the Council that “All of the campgrounds are barricaded. Toilets are locked up and people are defecating around the buildings, and bear-proof dumpsters are bolted shut.”  Searles personally feels all of this happened too soon.

When asked about this issue, Marty Hornick of the USFS said, “We still have the Twin Lakes Campground open.  It has not filled up since the others closed.”  Hornick said the concessionaire went beyond his required open date before closure of the other camp facilities in early October when a storm hit.  “The concessionaire,” said Hornick, “did not have enough business to stay open.”  He added that the bathrooms have flush toilets, not compatible with freezing temperatures.  Hornick said pit toilets are available in many locations and some dumpsters remain open.

Searles said that visitors are driving around in the Lakes Basin in search of a place to camp but can’t find one.  “The Lakes Basin is under-marketed,” said Searles, “and under-used.”  He pointed to the Forest Service practice of giving campground host duties to the lowest bidder.  “The fewer people who come, the easier their jobs are,” said Searles.  “In these difficult financial times,” he said, “the Lakes Basin is an incredible attraction.”

Councilman John Eastman said that Mammoth Lakes is the economic engine for the county.  He questioned why campgrounds in the Lakes Basin are closed while campsites in June Lake and Convict Lake remain open.

When asked about that, Hornick of the USFS said that it’s primarily an elevation matter and temperatures when it comes to the toilets.  “This is not an uncommon thing,” he said, “and typical of our schedule.  Campground visitor numbers drop considerably after Labor Day.”

Other councilmembers agreed to speak with the Forest Service about this issue.

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