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I&M Canal trail and weird camping requirements

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I&M Canal trail and weird camping requirements

Old 08-13-19, 09:10 AM
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TheRef
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I&M Canal trail and weird camping requirements

I'm leaving this weekend for my first rail-trails/canal trails multi-day trip. We will be traveling west on the Illinois & Michigan (I&M) canal trail that passes a few miles from my house and we will connect to the Hennepin Canal trail all the way to Iowa.
I'll be traveling with my 10 year old daughter and my 17 year old son who is a seasoned cyclist. My daughter will only ride the first day or two and my wife will come pick her up. We plan to leave Friday after work. Get a few hours before setting camp and continue the whole day on Saturday. I've identified two possible sites for the first couple nights depending how far my daughter can go. Much to my surprise I found out that the campsites I was looking for require as much as 48-72 hours for a reservation. These are not busy campgrounds but rather simple/rustic sites that seldom gets used.

The main issue is that unlike some other popular trails that are one continuous state park the I&M canal trail and the adjacent campgrounds are managed by multiple jurisdictions and some are not friendly to cyclists at all. I called the nearest one managed by the WIll County forest preserve and inquired to be told very rudely that it is the way it is. When I inquired about what would happen if I camped there without a permit she said that I could get fined, removed or even arrested for trespassing. This is a shame as this trail will be part of the Great American trail that will eventually cross the whole country. As off now they are not very friendly to cyclists and Hikers. This might be a reason this trail doesn't get much national attention such as the Katy, GAP/C&O, Erie Canal trail etc.

Other campgrounds along the route also require advance reservation but can be done on the day of by phone on business days. This is also frustrating as it doesn't allow for much flexibility when traveling with a child or for any weather.

I'm usually a by the book person and the idea of stealth/no permit camping does not appeal to me. I've seen some state parks having unnamed hiker/cyclist sites where one could fill the permit form and leave the payment on an unnamed cash by the honor system.

Also the idea of paying $40 bucks per night for no running water, electricity and a vault toilet seems a bit absurd. No wonder that campsite is never used. Otherwise the County's does a great job with their preserves/forests/trails.

What have been your experiences while traveling on trails as far as advance reservation/cost/method required for the reservations?
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Old 08-13-19, 09:20 AM
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The reservation systems are kind of a joke. They want a service charge to make the reservation on top of the actual campground fee.
On top of that, many of them want a two day minimum stay on a weekend if you are using the reservation system.

I ignored all of that and just showed up. Never had an issue for the last 5 weeks thru Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

If by chance a spot isn't available go to the next town and get a hotel. Otherwise, don't worry about it.
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Old 08-13-19, 09:29 AM
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The Pine Creek Trail in PA passes through, I believe, two PA forest jurisdictions. There are "public" campgrounds in both. Just like in your case, you need to contact both jurisdictions for permits if you plan to stay in both. Seems like a bit of a PITA, but it's the nature of the beast. Don't know what a night costs. Possibly free. $40 for a primitive site is nuts. A U.S. Forest Service camping area like that would be free.

As for the idea of reservations/permits, the responsible authority wants to know who is going to be where when.
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Old 08-13-19, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
The Pine Creek Trail in PA passes through, I believe, two PA forest jurisdictions. There are "public" campgrounds in both. Just like in your case, you need to contact both jurisdictions for permits if you plan to stay in both. Seems like a bit of a PITA, but it's the nature of the beast. Don't know what a night costs. Possibly free. $40 for a primitive site is nuts. A U.S. Forest Service camping area like that would be free.

As for the idea of reservations/permits, the responsible authority wants to know who is going to be where when.
I understand the need for a the fee. I'm not complaining about that but 72 hours advance registration on a campsite on a trail???
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Old 08-13-19, 10:10 AM
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Originally Posted by TheRef View Post
I understand the need for a the fee. I'm not complaining about that but 72 hours advance registration on a campsite on a trail???
I hear you. I found something similar on the Ohio to Erie trail if you want to stay in the Cuyahoga River Valley. It's at the end of the trail, so the hardest to predict if you were going to wing it, but you need to reserve in advance.
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Old 08-13-19, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by TheRef View Post
I understand the need for a the fee. I'm not complaining about that but 72 hours advance registration on a campsite on a trail???
72 hrs. sounds a bit excessive. And again, I think that fee certainly outrageous for what's there, which sounds is nothing. Looked up the Pine Creek Trail fee. There is no fee. I was touring in Montana and Idaho back in June. Stayed at 4 U.S.F.S. campgrounds with running water, trash disposal, vault toilets, bear lockers and picnic tables and fire rings at every site. IIRC, three were $7/night and one was $10. I also stayed at a federal recreation area that had the same things except the restrooms had flush toilets, plumbed sinks and electrical outlets so you could charge equipment. $12/night, although I did see a written notice announcing a proposal to double the fee. Budget cuts are the likely reason. $40/night is more than I have ever paid at a private campground with amenities like swimming pools and showers.
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Old 08-13-19, 08:11 PM
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I had a lot of luck recently by just calling the campground host. Sometimes the phone number was on google maps info.
I warned them I was showing up on a bike in the dark. They were always accommodating.
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Old 08-14-19, 07:21 AM
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Originally Posted by boomhauer View Post
I had a lot of luck recently by just calling the campground host. Sometimes the phone number was on google maps info.
I warned them I was showing up on a bike in the dark. They were always accommodating.
The campsites I'm talking about are unattended. A couple of them are forest preserves with road access, they close the gates to the road at night but the trail passes through the preserve and yo can access the campsites from the trail.
The only way to contact them is call the office many many miles away on regular business hours and to be told to go to the office in person or use the online reservation system... get this.. with 72 hours of advance.

"A permit must be obtained no less than two business days prior to the reservation. This means that reservations for the upcoming weekend must be made by close-of-business (4 p.m.) on Wednesday.

Camping reservations may be made in-person or online. A permit can be purchased at any of these visitor centers: "
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Old 08-14-19, 07:35 AM
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NJ state campgrounds have a nice little jack set up. $20/night for residents. $25/night for non-residents. I am o.k. with that. The parks are state subsidized and I generally don't pay NJ state taxes except on the rare occasions when I buy stuff in the state. Here is the jack: If you want to reserve a spot, there is a $5 flat fee for each reservation. If, on the other hand, you show up without a reservation you still get charged the $5 fee. They call it a "transaction fee." What really gets me about that scheme is that the person working the office does the same amount of work checking me in whether I have a reservation or not, so it's not as if showing up without a reservation increases staff workload.
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Old 08-14-19, 08:01 AM
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Originally Posted by TheRef View Post
The campsites I'm talking about are unattended. A couple of them are forest preserves with road access, they close the gates to the road at night but the trail passes through the preserve and yo can access the campsites from the trail.
The only way to contact them is call the office many many miles away on regular business hours and to be told to go to the office in person or use the online reservation system... get this.. with 72 hours of advance.
Makes me think the odds of being found are very unlikely if you set up after the gates are locked. I realize you're trying to do it by the book, but they sure don't seem to be facilitating that. My friend and I got a night of free camping by biking to a campground where, if the gate house is empty, you're supposed to park in the lot, then set up camp at an empty spot, and they will come by to complete registration later (no car parking at the actual campsites). Being on bikes, we just rolled on down the trail, found the whole place to be empty, and set up camp. I figure the ranger must have done a pass through the parking lot, saw no cars, and concluded there were no campers. Then the next morning we surprised the guy at the gatehouse when we tried to register on the way out. He was flummoxed by the process of backdating a registration and just sent us on our way.
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Old 08-14-19, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
Makes me think the odds of being found are very unlikely if you set up after the gates are locked. I realize you're trying to do it by the book, but they sure don't seem to be facilitating that. .
There is absolutely no way I'll put my 10 Year old in that position. As a parent we have to put our kids in a position to succeed and that's a sure way to make her not wanting to do another adventure in the future. There is a state park 13 miles down the trail and they allow you to put an envelop with the payment ( $6) he office mail box if the office is closed for the day. That will force me leave work a little earlier or start the trip from the trail head instead of home saving about 12 miles and allowing me to get to the further campsite still with daylight.
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Old 08-14-19, 02:56 PM
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Originally Posted by TheRef View Post
There is absolutely no way I'll put my 10 Year old in that position. As a parent we have to put our kids in a position to succeed and that's a sure way to make her not wanting to do another adventure in the future. There is a state park 13 miles down the trail and they allow you to put an envelop with the payment ( $6) he office mail box if the office is closed for the day. That will force me leave work a little earlier or start the trip from the trail head instead of home saving about 12 miles and allowing me to get to the further campsite still with daylight.
Yeah, having a kid in the mix makes a difference. Good that you have options.
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Old 08-14-19, 05:25 PM
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No question that the various public camping systems around the US are way behind the times in terms of dealing with what is known as “biker/hiker” sites. They should charge half or less than what an RV pays and should not require minimum stays or advanced reservations. Some Nat’l Parks have this, most don’t. Darren Alff at The Bicycle Touring Pro has much to say about this, which is why he stealth camps whenever he can rather than pay $35 at a Nat’l Park with no electricity or showers, etc.... just to put a tent down.

Only answer is to write letters and demand public officials start being smart about this. The civil service employee at the gate is just perfectly following the rules and they love to make people follow rules,
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Old 08-14-19, 06:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve B. View Post

Only answer is to write letters and demand public officials start being smart about this.
I had a back and forth about this with the people at Adventure Cycling in connection with a great NJ state forest campground on their Atlantic Coast route after I was turned away during a long weekend tour because all the site were occupied. The place is extremely popular, especially on weekends. If you are heading north, there is no alternative camping for a good ways. (I was heading south, so I had a couple of other options not that far away.) It's also in bear country, so you don't want people stealth camping in the woods. (I saw a very young bear cub there last year.) The other annoyance is that in NJ, if you want to reserve on a weekend you have to book both Friday and Saturday. There is more than enough space for a cyclist or three to pitch a tent without crowding other campers. Adventure Cycling gave me some talking points and written, no-cylist-turned-away policies adopted by seven state park systems. Armed with that, I contacted the agency that manages NJ state park/forrest campgrounds. I explained the unique niche the particular campground occupies and even supplied the written policies Adventure Cycling had provided me. Much to my surprise, I got an email back from the facility's superintendent. He told me that the place does accept people who arrive by bike, foot or water craft even when all official sites are occupied. (The place is on the Delaware River and not that far off the Appalachian Trail.) He told me to call the park directly to let them know I was coming. He also apologized and surmised that the person at the park office with whom I spoke must not have known about the policy. (She did look young enough to maybe be an intern.)

The point of telling that story is that you are correct. Advocacy is the way to address issues like this. AC worked with the state park system in Montana. The result is 5 parks (on AC routes) that have hiker/biker sites with cyclist-specific amenities, including Park Toolrepair clamps, bear lockers and power. They are also less expensive than regular sites. ($6 for residents, $12 for non-residents.) And get this: Even if the sites are full they won't turn you away. I have stayed in two of them twice. They are really nice. Here is a photo from the one at Whitefish Lake S.P. (Not shown are the several tent pads.)

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