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Some campers unhappy over closure plans on mountain

A proposed $14 million project that could close three popular Mount Charleston campgrounds for two summers and eliminate 74 campsites has some Las Vegans fired up, while the U.S. Forest Service tries to keep all campers happy.

The Forest Service is seeking public input on a proposed face-lift to the Dolomite and McWilliams campgrounds and Old Mill Picnic Area, three Spring Mountains National Recreation Area sites on state Route 156 in Lee Canyon.

An estimated 53,000 people visit the campgrounds each summer, but the sites, facilities and roads are weathered from 40 years of use or fall below Forest Service standards, agency spokeswoman Judy Suing said.

"They no longer meet Forest Service standards and aren’t accessible to people with disabilities," she said. "The project will reconstruct the infrastructure in all three sites and aid winter snow play."

The planned renovation would end camping at Old Mill Picnic Area but still allow daytime picnicking. The measure could eliminate 74 campsites.

The area was designated for picnic use only when it was built in 1974, and it opened for camping in 2007, Suing said.

"At this time we are accommodating for both uses, but because we have conflicts between campers and picnickers, the proposal is for picnic only," she said. "There is a higher demand for day sites."

dolomite-mcwilliams plans

The Dolomite and McWilliams campgrounds are slated to become one campground with upgrades to bathrooms, the hosts’ lots and the entrance, exit and road. The number of spaces, 70 combined, will remain, but they will be wheelchair-accessible and equipped to handle larger recreation vehicles.

"Unfortunately, there is a lot of sensitive species, and the topography is as such (that) we have to stay in the same footprint," Suing said of not adding new campsites.

Funding for the project is expected to be $14 million, with $6 million devoted to Old Mill Picnic Area.

Construction could take place during the summers of 2013 and 2014 to avoid the migratory bird nesting season and winter snowfall, Suing said.

The sites are three of seven campgrounds overseen by the Forest Service.

Plans also suggest parking areas that can be plowed easily during winter. The Dolomite-McWilliams area is slated to be open for snow play by the end of 2014, Suing said.

Mixed reaction from campers

Visitors to the Lee Canyon campgrounds were mixed on the proposed changes.

"I would be upset if they made (Old Mill Picnic Area) day use only, but I have to say it’s all we’ve used it for lately," said Marnie Magner of Las Vegas.

Magner and husband Jerry took their grandsons and a camp stove to the area Thursday for a grilled cheese lunch and an afternoon of play. It costs $10 to picnic at the designated spots.

"We like it because it’s not crowded," Jerry Magner said. "We can let the kids and the dog roam around."

The Magners said they would find another place to picnic if the two-year hiatus is approved.

Las Vegas resident Al Goff and his wife retreat to Mount Charleston for two-week camping jaunts to beat the heat at home. The couple own a luxury RV but also bought a smaller tow-camper because the campsites aren’t suitable for the larger rig.

He said he looks forward to the reconstruction but doesn’t favor the timeline.

"I realize they need to work during the summer, but I’m definitely against closing it for two summers," he said. "You could close part of it and leave part open."

Goff also suggested making each spot first-come, first-served so that longer-term campers can claim prime spots without interruption by people who reserve for short stays. Goff said he plans to submit his suggestions and opinion on the proposed changes to the Forest Service.

The campgrounds could receive pay phones and a land line at the host lot, a proposed change that pleased camper Bill Thomas.

The Henderson resident said he often has to drive down state Route 156 to get cellphone reception during his frequent stays at Lee Canyon campgrounds.

Thomas also said he looked forward to new restrooms that could eliminate the need for his pop-up shower stall and solar water heater.

Mount Charleston is his retreat, he said.

"There is no hustle and bustle. It’s just a mental R and R," he said. "If they close these down, I’ll just find somewhere else to camp."

Dolomite Campground host Roy Tuft, who lives at the campground in the summer, said he has heard scuttlebutt of changes to Dolomite, McWilliams and Old Mill Picnic Area for years.

‘These things need to be done’

"These things need to be done," he said. "I can’t even believe anyone is whining about it."

Suing said no changes are final, and public input is needed. The deadline for comment is Aug. 31.

Las Vegas resident Julie Coch has visited Lee Canyon campgrounds an average of three times a summer for about nine years, she said.

"It would break my heart not to come up here for a couple years," Coch said. "But it won’t keep me from camping."

Contact Centennial and Paradise View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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