Park squatters a problem
By LeAnn Eckroth
Morton County Park Board members encourage campers to visit Crown Butte Dam, but not live there.
County Park Director Tim Nilsen will ask the North Dakota Game and Fish Department if he can close the 80.5-acre park to camping Tuesdays and Wednesdays as requested by the park board. It will not affect daily recreation use or ban fisherman who want to use the pond daily.
The park is about 4 miles west of Mandan next to Interstate 94. The Game and Fish Department owns the property, but the Morton County park staff maintains and monitors it.
Park board member Cody Schulz said the purpose of the proposed change is to prevent “squatters” from the oil patch from making the primitive camping site their permanent home.
“They are using it as a place to stay for weeks at a time. We want it open for recreation uses so everybody can come and enjoy it,” he said.
About a half-dozen camping parties were spotted abusing the camping privileges recently, Schulz said. If there are days closed to camping, it might be easier to monitor for violators and enforce policy.
“The thought is if we request them to leave, they may not return,” Schulz said.
Morton County park policy already caps campers’ stays at 10 days and it is posted, he said. No camping fees are charged at most of the nine camp sites in the county, but they are charged at Harmon Lake and Graner Bottoms because they have electrical units. Schulz and Nilsen said no fees are planned in the near future for Crown Butte Dam.
Schulz said campers who overstay their welcome may prevent someone else from enjoying the site. “There is an issue with noise and litter,” he added.
Nilsen said these are not people securing a camping spot for the weekend (also a camping policy).
“They come to live here in a tent or a camper. With the oil boom, we’re seeing more of them pop up in the last two years,” he said. “We’ve had four of these situations at a time.”
Because no fees are taken, it’s sometimes hard to determine how long people have stayed. Nilsen said Morton County deputies would be able to better monitor and enforce the stay time with camping day limits. He said those who have camped too long generally cooperate once they are contacted by park staff or deputies.
Andy Zachmeier, a county park board member, opposes closing camping for parts of the week.
“It’s too close to Mandan. For residents in those subdivisions, it should be a little community park,” he said.
Zachmeier said since Game and Fish owns the area, it should be that agency’s decision. Nor does he see the squatter issue as that big of a threat. He said the dam is near enough to Mandan to be regularly checked by park staff and deputies.