Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV, is a fantastic wilderness with the best above tree-line hiking/backpacking on the East Coast!
That said, and being only 3hrs from DC, it's falling victim to being 'over loved' by huge (and I mean HUGE) crowds.
In the last few years, many hundreds of campers descend upon favorite camping areas along its Red Creek drainage system, especially during peak summer holidays.
This has lead to the predictable over crowding problems; young trees being cut for firewood, litter, and human waste along trails and campsites.
In the words of Dr. Peter Venkman : Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! Sorry 😉
This area doesn't seem to be patrolled by the Forest Service, those folks in green with ticket books.
In past years the area was well known as a dangerous place to get lost. However, several years ago the trail network was populated with complete trail signage. There is also a map brochure available at the Seneca Rocks NP visitor center, which is actually a darned good map, obviating the need to have any wilderness skills in order to take a 'deep dive' from any of the many trail heads into the beautiful yet remote, drainage system, with the many rock outcrops, small waterfalls, and scenic creeks.
So, is it time for a trail head permit system (self registration)? A trail quota system (like the online system used for the JMT)? Forest Service patrols? Hikers policing hikers?
REI member since 1979 (had to throw that in there!)
ok, so here's what I'm thinking;
phase 1 - forest service patrols during peak use times, plenty of ticket books. Self registration kiosks at trail heads.
phase 2 - if all else fails, a trail head quota system, like that found on recreation.gov for SEKI wilderness travel. However, that's an NPS thing (Dept of the Interior), the Sods is USFS (Dept of Agriculture).
My first trip into Dolly Sods was the fall of 1976. I remember that in the early days there WAS a permit system. Permits were free, but I cannot remember if they were only for groups larger than ten, or for a campers in the wilderness.
I do not know what the answer is. There are too many entry points for effectively limiting use of trails. Perhaps the answer is to limit vehicle access onto FR 75 at both ends, but that still leaves the possibility of overcrowding at the Laneville trailhead.
Trees being cut, liter, and human waste seem to be problems limited to within a mile or two of trailheads. I was recently up at the Pine Plantation above Lion's Head and it was nearly pristine! I saw lots of people and people camping close to FR 75 but hardly anyone a few miles from a trailhead.
I think we need to nominate DS as a LNT hot spot in next year's round of designations and to focus attention on education that emphasizes the authority of the resource over regulations and fines. I hope that once COVID19 subsides that use pressure on DS and other such areas will lessen.
As you present the situation, the answer is a no=brainer - the resource needs a permit system. Government, Interior vs Agriculture is irrelevant. When crowding occurs, you lose wilderness values (solitude). Education should be emphasized, rather than tickets and enforcement, at least initially.
It isn't any more fun for the agency administering the system, than it is for the users. Trust me!!
I was up there over-night two weekends ago. Past about a mile in from the major access points traffic drops off pretty precipitously, and while I picked up a couple of pieces of litter, was surprised at how little. Access is a mess tho, Bear Rocks is a disaster, there are leaf-lice charging around everywhere, with people setting up army supply style base camps close to trailheads. All this to say: there are definitely a lot of people, probably too many, but my feeling is that most of the problems are coming from day-trippers or car-esque campers. Permitting might help (not against it) but it might keep out as many/more dedicated sensible backwoods hikers as the "we go set up basecamp with the mates" types who book their annual trip a year in advance as a second leg to their Assateague Flag-Flying expedition. As an impulse hiker and someone who doesn't know movements in advance I find entry limits very frustrating (tho understandable). Banning camping in a wider margin around the edges (but if not done thoughtfully might just push the problem further in), combined with an entrance fee to reduce day traffic might help. I guess I feel/hope/wish there are ways to limit the yahoos and damage not at the expense of locking it down too much.
It's tough, Covid has conflicted me between wishing all the green campers would go away and leave me in *my* wilderness, but at the same time watching whole new segments of people discover the great outdoors...
Probably the most complex permit system in the US is the permit system(s) for the Mt. Whitney region, highly desirable for peak baggers and climbers of every stripe.
For me, the system, which was less complex the last time I used it, simply meant that we had to plan our trip well in advance and allow for alternative dates. Yes, it was a hassle, but the system was much preferable to dealing with overcrowding/
Here are the current details: https://www.mount-whitney.com/mt_whitney_permits
We turned around and went elsewhere. Couldn't reach trailhead. Total gridlock on the road. Cars parked on both sides leaving one lane for two way traffic. Then some double-chinned MAGA-moron in an F350 dually decided to back down into climbing traffic. I offered to help him do a 3PT. and he offered to shoot me. Nice. Time for gates and entry limits, permits and parking fines. Last time we went up there we pretty much were alone. If necessary it should be closed. Why are there this many cars in a wilderness anyway?
We're having the same issues in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks. The crowds this year have been unbelievable. No where near enough parking at trail heads. People leaving trash everywhere. The rangers are worn thin by the ridiculous number of wilderness rescues they've had to perform this summer. As I posted earlier, we even had a unprepared, inexperienced group get caught by nightfall and then try to make torches out of their clothes which is why the rangers discovered them in their underwear the next morning.
The DEC is debating a permit system. Others are arguing for an increase in infrastructure: improved parking, and trails. Either way they're going to have to hire more rangers.