2024 Bus Trip Changes
For over 40 years our Chapter has sponsored bus trips to various locations within California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. Our outings were mostly backpacking trips within our National Parks, State Parks and National Forests, primarily organized by Mike Fry and various volunteers. It was an opportunity for people to experience the wilderness with knowledgeable leaders, and to foster a commitment to “explore, enjoy and protect our wild places.” Most of our trips were well attended and much appreciated. It was also an opportunity for people to meet like-minded people, and to forge lasting friendships. We often had post-trip parties where people shared photos and great food.
Unfortunately, over the years the rules set by the various forest entities for offering these trips changed and became more bureaucratic. In the past we were able to subsidize our leaders and coordinators as a way to thank them for their service. However, in the recent past, we had to change our model in order to continue offering our trips. This meant that we could only charge for actual costs, and that everyone (including leaders) had to pay the same. To continue to subsidize our leaders would cause us to be seen as a “commercial” entity which would require different leader qualifications (i.e. Wilderness First Responder), and an entirely different application process. We were told that if we were commercial, we would be unable to visit certain locations. Thus, we chose to change our model to “noncommercial,” which unfortunately meant that our leaders had full responsibility but with no financial support.
As wilderness travel has become more popular, another big issue has been dealing with the competition for permits and campgrounds. This has required being online at an appointed time to compete with “everyone else” for desired campsites and trailheads. Often it took several of us online with recreation.gov at the same time, to make sure we could secure enough reservations since we needed a certain number of trips in order to afford a bus. We often had to advertise trips before we knew if we could actually secure these reservations – a stressful situation for all involved. In the old days we could deal with the Forest Service and parks directly and it was much easier.
Other changes included issues related to the buses themselves. The actual costs for using buses for transportation grew exponentially. Thus, we had to charge more for our outings. The bus companies began using larger buses which made it difficult for the drivers to drop hikers at certain desired trailheads.
Another issue with the buses is that they drew unwanted attention from regulators. In one instance we got cited for bringing a bus to an area we had previously visited several times without problems. Apparently the rules had changed without our knowledge, and we were in violation of those rules. It was a difficult situation for all involved.
This is especially true for some of the National Parks, where rules could change from year to year depending upon the current Park administration. The buses needed to have a CUA (commercial use authorization). We had to plead our case that we were noncommercial and did not need a CUA (although the bus company did). We had to explain that the buses were not tour buses, but were just hired for transportation. In several cases it was touch and go as to whether we could actually do the trip until the very last minute.
In the past, we organized these trips using a manual process by which participants sent in checks and included self-addressed stamped envelopes for future correspondence and instructions. PayPal was added years later. The larger we grew, the more we needed staff with technical skills that were often hard to find. Our website kept crashing during registration times which was very frustrating for all involved. Computers made many things easier, but increased our costs in dealing with problems we didn’t have the skills to master.
On top of everything else is climate change. Over the past few years we have been hit with forest fires, floods, blizzards and other unforeseen weather phenomena. This past season we had to cancel 2 trips due to the impact of the enormous snowpack in the Sierras. Roads were closed, trailheads were inaccessible, and streams were overflowing. Some of our expenses were retrievable, but others were not. We were all terribly disappointed.
Due to the above, we regretfully came to the conclusion that we could no longer continue with business as usual. We hope that leaders will offer backpacks on a smaller scale that will entail carpools and lower costs. We may be able to offer one or two bus trips annually, but a new committee will need to be organized that has the commitment, patience, persistence and skills to make it work. For those of us on the Committee it has been an honor and a joy to put these trips together for our members. We hope that the next generation will step up and create the kinds of trips that our membership will grow to love.