The old adage that good fences make good neighbors is about to be put to the test.
Last winter residents of Crystal Beach, in the Desert Hills area, started seeing an influx of campers on Arizona State Trust land just outside the neighborhood along Fathom Drive. The locals complained that campers were staying too close to the road, and in many cases overstaying their 14-day camping permit.
“Last year was unreal. They just started parking there,” said Crystal Beach resident Loyd Miller, who said he has lived in the area for at least 30 years and has never had this problem before. “I didn’t like them parking up there. There were bunches of them – 20 to 30 campers on both sides of the road.”
Eventually the issue was brought to the attention of Mohave County District 5 Supervisor Ron Gould.
“They were camping really close to the road right there,” Gould said. “That was bothering my constituents that live in the Crystal Beach area. So we worked with State Land and they gave us the material to put that fence up and the county paid for the labor to do it so that we can push those folks back away so they aren’t camping right next to the road.”
Not all residents in the area were bothered by the campers, however.
“I guess they all have to have permits to park there, so what is the big deal? Why are they blocking them out?” asked Crystal Beach resident Bonnie Dysart. “That is our income for the winter – the snowbirds... They are going to go to some other town now, and that interrupts our money.”
Although it is still on the early side for snowbirds, Crystal Beach resident Mathew Espinoza said the first RVs of the year started showing up in the area about three weeks ago. So far the RVs seem to be staying at least a quarter mile to a half mile away from Fathom Drive this fall. Instead the RVs are entering the area a few thousand feet to the south along London Bridge Road. On Thursday there appeared to be about half a dozen RVs camped out in the area farther south, but locals expect more will be coming through the winter.
“The only trouble is that when you push them from here, they are just going to move over there – and that is what is happening right now,” Espinoza said.
So far, Undersheriff Ed Trafecanty said he is unaware of any complaints being made about campers in the area this fall. Arizona State Land Commissioner Lisa Atkins said her department hasn’t gotten any feedback from county officials or residents since the fence went up over the summer.
According to Trafecanty, there was just one complaint of illegal camping near Fathom Drive and London Bridge Road in the winter of 2016-17. The next year there were three complaints about illegal campers from November to February. Last winter Trafecanty said deputies were called to the area a total of six times from the end of October until May – two of those calls were complaints about campers while four calls came from campers complaining about being harassed.
“Generally if a camper is found to not have a permit or their permit is expired, they are warned and given the opportunity to leave,” Trafecanty said in an email to Today’s News-Herald. “If they do not leave as warned, they will be cited for trespassing under Arizona Revised Statutes.”
Trafecanty said Mohave County Sheriff’s Deputies have issued six citations for trespassing near Fathom Drive and London Bridge Road, compared to five such citations in all of the other State Trust lands around Lake Havasu combined.
“Our deputies have more important things to do and they didn’t sign up to play park ranger,” Gould said. “So I thought if we could spend some money on the fence and alleviate the deputy having to deal with it than it is a good thing to do.”
It is still unclear how much time the new fence will save deputies, however.
“While the fence will surely curtail access to that particular portion of State Trust land, people will most likely go to another accessible State Trust land area… which will undoubtedly generate complaints from others,” Trafecanty said.
Although camping close to Fathom Drive has been a major issue for many of the residents in the area, it is not their only concern.
“They are creating new trails with the big thunderous RVs that go out there,” Espinoza said. “A lot of the trails that were almost gone after a number of years are very definitive now. Then there is obviously the trash issues with some of them dumping out there, apparently.”
“They’ve destroyed our desert out here,” Miller said. “There are trails everywhere now.”
Espinoza pointed out that one of the RVs that came to the area last year is still on State Trust land, apparently abandoned.
“It is falling apart, and it is just a matter of time before somebody lights it on fire,” Espinoza said. “That is ultimately what happens to abandoned vehicles out in the desert.”
Patrolling State Trust land
The Arizona State Land Department manages 9.2 million acres of land across the state, but it doesn’t have the staff to enforce the rules and regulations on those lands.
“It is a very large portfolio to manage on a variety of level,” Atkins said. “Our ability to establish a good working relationship with local law enforcement is what helps us stretch resources to be able to address this situation in Havasu and other situations wherever the portfolio has a footprint in other jurisdictions. We can’t be everywhere at once. There is no way to have a staff large enough to monitor all 9.2 million acres throughout the state.”
But the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department has limited resources as well.
“The Sheriff’s Office sympathizes with the people who have to look at the numerous motorhomes and trailers on State Trust land as they travel to and from their homes,” Trafecanty said. “We believe it is an eyesore and takes away from the beauty of the desert. That being said, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office cannot issue citations or force people to leave State Trust land if they have a valid permit to be there. Our Deputies and Volunteer Posse try to be as diligent as possible in enforcing State Trust Land laws and rules however, The Sheriff’s Office cannot dedicate full time camp hosts to each and every area of State Trust land in Mohave County.”
A push for no camping?
It is still barely mid-October, much too early to get a feel for the full situation on the State Trust land or the new fencing in place. Gould said he mentioned last spring that the State Trust land may want to consider prohibiting camping on that particular 625 acre parcel of land.
Atkins said the only formal request received by State Trust Lands was for the fencing, which has already been provided.
“If we get a bunch of people out there (this winter) maybe we will try to have them come back out and take another look at it,” Gould said, stressing that that is an issue for State Trust Lands rather than the Board of Supervisors. “I’m not opposed to people camping on Trust land or BLM land, it is just that there are places where it is not really appropriate.”
Atkins indicated that the State Land Department will need to rely on local officials and residents to keep them informed of any problems in the area.
“I think we have a pretty good line of communication with not only the county officials but with the city officials as well,” Atkins said. “If we need to have somebody up there to take a look than we will. But our resources are limited compared to the footprint that the trust has.”