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Respect the River/Rio - Recreationists

Camping and Picnicking

Be respectful of the area you are using. When you arrive at your campsite or picnic area, look around. Why did you come to this place? Was it to escape your neighbors? To enjoy the beauty of the outdoors? Please remember these reasons, and before you leave take some time to "naturalize" your site. Below are a few helpful hints.

Choose an existing site

Illustration of a campsite with a browned out area Creating new campsites kills bushes, trees, and flowers. The browned-out areas creating by heavy use add to soil erosion. Protect water quality and aquatic habitat by keeping campsites at least 200 feet away from rivers, lakes, or other wetlands.

Park away from the water's edge

Illustration of jeep showing mudded tracks We all know that sometimes camping seems easier if you have a vehicle. But vehicles, if not used responsibly, can cause damage that takes decades to restore. Parking on the stream bank compacts the soil around the roots of plants, killing shade-providing streamside plants. Browned-out stream banks increase erosion, pollute the stream, and make it hard for fish and other aquatic wildlife to breathe. In addition, muddy tire tracks are just plain ugly, and vehicles driven onto tree roots seriously jeopardize the health of the tree. Please park at least 200 feet (or 12 vehicle lengths) back from the stream. See also Off Road Vehicle Use.

RV's, camp trailers, and pop-ups

Illustration of an SUV pulling a camp trailer up a road While RV's, camp trailers, and pop-up campers help make camping easier (such as toilets, built in stoves, etc.), they can also create problems. It is ILLEGAL to dump waste water anywhere except at designated dump sites. Never dump the water onto the ground or into the river. Be respectful of neighbors if you plan to use a generator; many people come to the forest for the quiet atmosphere. RV's, camp trailers, pop-ups, and other vehicles, should be at least 200 feet away from the water. See also, Park away from the water's edge.

Pack it in, pack it out

Illustration of a boy picking up trash and a close-up of a hand putting trash in a bag Most areas in the forest don't have trash service or trash receptacles. Leaving your trash at the site attracts hungry animals, contaminates the water and soil, and leaves a mess for the next person. Please take your trash home with you.

Going in the woods

Illustration of a bear reading a newspaper while "going in the woods" When people are not responsible going in the woods they contaminate the water you swim in, fish from, and drink. Bacteria and viruses found in human feces are known to cause hepatitis, blue baby syndrome, salmonella, giardia, and other gastro-intestinal diseases. Remember, the water in the rivers and lakes you visit may flow into your own drinking water supply.

Please follow these simple steps when nature calls:

  1. Find a spot at least 200 steps from any water source
  2. Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and bury human waste
  3. Pack out used toilet paper

Use existing trails

Illustration of a hiker walking down a trail People who wanted to forge their own way create more trails than what is needed. Many of the trails end at the same place. What those people don't know is that every new trail created hurts the land they came to enjoy. Each new trail increases erosion, dumps sediment into the stream, and compacts the soil, making it tough for plants to grow and for soil to retain water. Informal trails are not maintained and may not take you where you want to go. Please stick to Forest Service trails. See also, Please tread lightly.

Please tread lightly

Illustrations of lots of small flowers Even the smallest plants play an important role. Their roots stabilize stream banks, break up compacted soil, and stop erosion from clogging streams and suffocating fish eggs, baby fish, frogs, and insects. Leaves and branches falling from plants are the building blocks of rich soil. They also provide shade and homes for small animals. Small plants are usually the first ones trampled by visitors, so please watch your step. See also, Use existing trails.

Leave building dams to the beavers

Illustration of a beaver on a lodge While it may be nice to have your own "private pool," you are actually making it difficult for fish and other aquatic animals to get around. Many fish, such as trout and salmon, move to different parts of the river to spawn and the dams campers and visitors build prevent them from reaching those areas.

Wash away from the water

Illustration of a faucet and a frog drinking water from a glass Soap degrades water quality and harms fish and other aquatic life. Protect them by washing at least 200 feet from the river, stream, or wetland, using plain water or biodegradable soap.

Use established fire rings wisely

Illustration of a soda can being tossed into a fire ring containing trash The ash and trash partially burned in a fire ring can easily contaminate a nearby river, stream, or wetland during heavy rains.

Please follow these simple steps when using a fire:

  1. Keep your fires small and bring your own firewood. If you have to collect firewood at your campsite, please collect it as far from the campsite as possible. See also, Please leave wood in and near the streams.
  2. Be sure to call ahead to the local ranger station for current fire restrictions. Remember, fire restrictions can change on a daily basis.
  3. Use existing fire rings. Scrape away litter and any other burnable material within a 10-foot-diameter circle surrounding the fire ring.
  4. Have nearby a shovel, axe, and bucket of water available before lighting your campfire.
  5. Pile extra wood away from the fire ring.
  6. Make sure all wood fits INSIDE the fire ring. Don't "feed" a large log into the fire ring.
  7. To put out a campfire, slowly pour water onto the fire (CAUTION: the steam can scald you). Stir with a shovel. Add more water. Stir again. Continue adding and stirring until all material, including rocks forming the fire ring, is cool to touch.
  8. Do not simply bury your fire. The coals can smolder and ignite again.
  9. NEVER leave a fire unattended, even if there are no flames present. Make sure it is out cold.

Please leave wood in and near the streams

Illustration of a log in a stream containing a fish and a tailed frog Fallen trees and other downed wood are important to the health and quality of soils, to nearby streams, and to all of the plants and animals that depend on them for food and shelter. Wood on the ground decays into soil, holds moisture, and creates places for seeds to grow. Collect firewood as far from streams and campsites as possible, or better yet, bring your own.

Respect living trees

Illustration of a tree bark with carvings and missing bark By carving or chopping into the trunks of trees, people unknowingly slit veins found right below the bark. These veins transport nutrients and water throughout the tree. Without food and water, the tree slowly starves to death, leaving you standing in the heat of the sun.

Respect other campers and visitors

Illustration of bear, deer, and heron in a riparian habitat The forest is open to everyone, so keep music and noise levels down. For the safety of your pets and others, please keep your pets restrained. A responsible camper will also clean up or bury their pet's droppings.

Respect restoration sites

Illustration of a bird perched on a wooden fence If you come across a road or campsite that is blocked off with logs, fences, or boulders, do not try to remove those barriers. Closures have been made to restore plants and habitats and to strengthen stream banks.

Respect historical sites and artifacts

Illustration of a mountain scene containing a wheel barrow and other items long left by humans If you come upon a historical site in the forest, enjoy it. Walk around, take a look and take pictures, but leave the site as you found it. These sites are fragile, and irreplaceable, so please respect them. Please drive around the site and leave items where you found them.

Know your local fishing and hunting rules

Illustration of a fish jumping out of water to catch a dragonfly Before you go hunting or fishing, check with the state wildlife and fisheries department to learn about current regulations, limits, and license requirements. Make sure you know how to correctly identify the fish or game. See also, Fishing and Wading.


Pack it in, pack it out


Link to United States Forest Service website Link to United States Environmenntal Protection Agency website Link to New Mexico Environment Department website Link to United States Department of Agriculture website