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Imagine the following situation:

A group of friends found a remote spot in a state or national forest that they really like. They keep returning to the place quite often, lately there are at least some members of the group staying overnight at the spot at least once or twice a month. They established a fire ring, surrounded by rocks, and someone dragged few logs around the fire to sit on. They have a rope strung in the trees to hand their food from.

Now some of them have an idea that it would be nice to build few camp benches instead of the logs, and perhaps some primitive wooden shelter. It is clear that there is some sort of limit, they clearly cannot go and build a large log cabin there. There must be some sort of limit between few logs around a circle of rocks for fireplace and a cabin. I am wondering what would still be considered OK, and where one would cross the limit.

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Is the land managed by State Park Service, National Park Service, or the National Forestry Service? They all have different rules (and I'm assuming this is in the united states) – Clare Steen Apr 3 '12 at 16:02
Part of the joy of the great outdoors is seeing nature untouched by man. I'd encourage you to "leave no trace" rather than seeing how far you can push the limit until you break a law. – BMitch Apr 6 '12 at 21:26
@BMitch: good point! – Jan Hlavacek Apr 7 '12 at 20:46
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I will suggest that the legality doesn't even matter. Since other people come to the site between visits from these friends, any one of those "other people" could decide the site was "too civilized" and undo what's been done. I have found picnic tables, stone furniture and the like at campsites in provincial parks, and left it how I found it. But I can easily imagine someone dismantling a structure because they disapprove of it.

The best approach would be to keep everything low key - not likely to be spotted from the water or the trail, and thus not likely to offend any other visitor, whether a ranger or a member of the public. Focus on things that are useful, like log seats and fire rings, and avoid things that look like "marking your territory" or creating a sense of possession. I think a shelter of any kind is definitely over the line. I'm not talking about the law, but about how other campers will feel when they reach the site. A log and a fire ring: ooh, this is nice. A rope left strung between two trees at perfect tarp height: this is handy. A plywood roof supported by 2x4s connected to trees: what's going on here?

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I agree with the sentiment, but disagree with the conclusion. Legality does matter, as the op probably wants to avoid arrest and fines. Consideration of fellow hikers also matters, but you're kind of hijacking her question to make your own (valid, but) tangentially related argument. – Russell Steen Apr 3 '12 at 16:31
I think you will have your constructions taken down by others sooner than you will be charged, and the fact it might be legal will not preserve your structures. I apologize if that wasn't clear. – Kate Gregory Apr 3 '12 at 17:44

Since you don't know if this area is national or state & you didn't say which state, I will answer for national forest land.

The National Forest's 14 day law (no more than 14days in one spot/must be away for 7days) applies to equipment as well as persons. If you want to follow the law then leaving benches or fire rings (tents/gear/etc) while you leave is not allowed. They generally leave things that are inviting for people to use them, but I wouldn't push the limit. Building a structure is a show of ownership of sorts, if I were to stumble upon a firepit or some benches I would feel okay to use it. But coming up on a structure is another thing & not only would I feel like I was invading someone's space but I wouldn't feel welcome in that space. You don't own this area, the courteous thing to do is to not act as though you do.

So, unless you (or your friends) have legal ownership over the property, which isn't the case, I would not build a structure on it.

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You really should not leave anything. I disagree that the fire ring with logs around it is OK. That is only OK if it is in a designated camp site.

Wilderness is just that, and should be left the way you found it to the reasonable extent you can. Obviously you being there is going to have some impact, so it's a matter of degree and what you can reasonably do anything about.

Building a fire is legal in many national forest at certain times, so doing that is not wrong. However, you have the obligation to put things back they way they were within reason. That definitely means not leaving a fire ring of stones, or logs for benches around the fire. You can't obliterate every trace of you being there, but you an spread the ashes a little, after making sure they are really out, of course.

Just leaving your ashes where they burned may be OK in some circumstances, although I wouldn't be happy about it, but anything beyond that is definitely not OK.

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@ab2: I think you mean this one: – Olin Lathrop Jan 8 at 21:50

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