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I've dismantled several fire-rings in an area that has many fire-rings strung out between a major trail and a river. (Colorado, 8,500 feet). These are not official camp sites.

Over the years, people decide to camp here rather than there even though a fire-ring was already there. Then they build a very large fire-ring, which is left brimming with ash, partially burned wood and unburnables such as aluminium foil and smashed cans. I'll dismantle one of these on my way out, tidy up the site, and carry out as much debris as I can.

Any hypothermic person can easily find another fire-ring. Most of these fire-rings are old, although still seen as an opportunity for a big campfire. I wouldn't dismantle an isolated fire-ring near timberline. Ethics?

  • A similar issue that I've run into is when people build very tall, very elaborate circular rock walls in scenic spots like the summit of a peak. IMO these can get out of proportion and spoil the natural beauty of the place, so sometimes I cut them down in height. People don't need to camp smack dab on top of the summit. – Ben Crowell Aug 9 '15 at 18:09
  • @BenCrowell Often times people pile up rocks as a makeshift trail marker. – tsturzl Aug 11 '15 at 2:10
  • Park rangers often times dismantle unofficial fire rings. I don't see any issue with doing so. If someone is hypothermic I don't think they're overly concerned about finding a fire ring to begin with. – tsturzl Aug 11 '15 at 2:11
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Different land managers have different takes on this so I don't think you're going to get a solid answer that applies across all areas.

I generally use the term "trail camp" to describe what you're talking about. An area with up turned rocks for sitting and doing stuff on, a fire ring, some flat spots for sleeping, etc.

I've never dismantled a single one, personally. I have a part time guide business, and one of the rules for us (US National Parks and US National Forests) is that our groups need to spread out across multiple campsites when possible. So if we have a party of ten with two guides, we'll break into two groups of five with a guide each and use two campsites.

So while you might be looking at things through a lens of "one group can just use x instead of y", there are groups that need to use both x and y on occasion.

Equestrian groups have even weirder requirements but I don't really know about those, other than the simple math that they have big animals that need to go somewhere and the people need to be a bit (but not too far) away.

For whatever it's worth, even in areas where fires are allowed we rarely start them. Under a commercial permit we're required to use existing trail camps whenever possible.

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    Thanks for this perspective. I hadn't thought about that. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Aug 9 '15 at 19:23
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    We just use the flat spots, and know our areas well, so culling the trail camps is fine honestly. Any commercial operators knows their route well enough. – Eric Aug 9 '15 at 19:27
  • do you still run your backpack and outfitting company? I clicked on your link and got "page cannot be displayed." – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Apr 4 '17 at 4:08
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I would say any time you're in an undeveloped area, it is OK and perhaps the most ethical thing to do, to dismantle fire rings. They encourage over-use of a particular spot, collect trash, etc.

When you're in a developed camping area, you should not dismantle them. Having the fire ring there ensures that the damage from fires is kept to one area, thus reducing impact elsewhere on the site.

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