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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
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1 Answer

up vote 2 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
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