Feds' stated reason for closing WMNF campgrounds irks operator

New Hampshire Sunday News
October 13. 2013 12:24AM

It was upsetting enough when Kent Tower learned the federal government was closing the campgrounds in the White Mountain National Forest that he's run for more than two decades.

But when they put up notices saying they were closed due to "health and safety" concerns, that was the final blow.

"We have cleaner bathrooms than anyone," Tower said Saturday. "We hire local police to come in and patrol at night. It's the biggest bunch of bull there could ever be."

Tower, president of Pro Sport Inc., estimates he'll lose $50,000 from the early shutdown of the 21 campgrounds and one recreation area he operates in the White Mountain National Forest under contract with the federal government. He's also spending an additional $13,000 in payroll to keep his employees on this past week.

"I wanted to make sure the campgrounds are safe," he said. "Plus these people are depending on their pay."

The financial loss is bad enough, Tower said. "Then on top of it, the government has the nerve to tell us the reason they're doing it is safety and health?

"I'm trying to be civil, but it's not easy when you see that."

Those notices felt like a personal insult to Tower.

"The campgrounds have never been quieter and safer. We've taken really rowdy campgrounds and made them safe for families to come, knowing they're going to be safe and they're going to be quiet."

All but three of his campgrounds were scheduled to close on Tuesday. Blackberry Crossing usually closes in November, and Hancock and Barnes Field stay open for winter camping.

Instead, his staff has been turning away angry campers from all the areas since last Wednesday. Friday night, he said, "two group of cars came in. They were at the gate and they were mad as hell they couldn't come in."

The early closure will also cost the federal government money, since Tower typically pays about 22 percent of his revenues to the government under his contract.

Tower said local WMNF federal employees are also upset about what's going on.

Tower is a member of the National Forest Recreation Association; he said lawyers for the group are fighting the campground closure in Washington. But with the loss of the peak Columbus Day Weekend, he said, "it's too late for us."

The federal closure of campgrounds run by concessionaires such as Tower has no effect on other camping in the White Mountains. Private campgrounds and state parks are open for business this holiday weekend.

And the WMNF is open for backpackers who can hike in and camp freely, Tower said. Apparently, he said, "there's no problem with health or security there."

Go to newhampshire.com for holiday weekend event and foliage information. Just click the outdoors tab at the top of the site.

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