Hollecker camping ban passes, commissioners considering permit amendment
By Kyle Vuille
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
The Dawson County Commissioners signed an ordinance Tuesday morning to ban overnight camping at Hollecker Lake.
A few local residents spoke against the ordinance.
Tuesday was the second reading of the ordinance originally brought up in the Nov. 7 commissioners’ meeting.
When the commissioners opened up the discussion for public comments, local resident Pat Mischel voiced his opposition.
Mischel said Hollecker Lake was originally created in 1964 for all to enjoy. Mischel said he remembered that year and listed off all the civic organizations who were involved at the time. He said under the property seller’s conditions, the county was to keep the recreation area open for the enjoyment of the public.
Mischel pointed out there are only two residences out of the thousands of acres that surround the lake and recreation area.
Mischel also presented the commissioners with a petition with 57 signatures opposing the ban on overnight camping.
Mischel added in 1978 the local Breakfast Lions club even hired a person to supervise Hollecker.
Peggy Iba, who also served on the Hollecker Lake board in the 80s and 90s, said it was always the Hollecker board’s vision to have a nice recreation area for locals and the occasional traveler to camp in a primitive sense.
“I felt like I was Johnny Appleseed with Harold Ullman because we planted trees and shrubs in anticipation and envisioning a wonderful recreational area with primitive camping,” Iba said.
“It was never planned to have electricity and water and sewer, but for kids to overnight camp there, that was kind of our vision we had for people to use it for that purpose.”
Iba asked the commissioners if there could be a provision involving the length of stay for campers. She added the associated fine of $500 for someone who stays the night there seemed extreme.
Another community member, Loren Schaaf, echoed Iba’s comments concerning the original intention of the lake and recreation area.
“I honestly think we oughta leave it and use it as it was intended,” Schaaf said. “A young family wants to spend the night out there camping and fishing, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
He also said maybe the county could put in place a limit on the length of stay at Hollecker, but said he was against the complete ban of camping.
Once the public comment period was closed, County Commissioner Doug Buxbaum said from his understanding, Hollecker Lake is a recreation site, not a campground. He also said there is a concern about monitoring the area after dark.
Commissioner Gary Kartevold simply said: “Times have changed, it’s not 1964 anymore, there’s a liability factor.”
As previously reported, law enforcement has found individuals who have caused problems vandalizing and partaking in illegal activities at the lake over the years.
Dawson County Sheriff Ross Canen also spoke on the matter, saying he was the one who originally brought the issue up to the commissioners. Canen owns one of the two residences whose property adjoins Hollecker.
Canen explained though there is a sign that states no camping, there is no way of enforcing the rule because there’s no ordinance in place. He also mentioned the associated fine would be up to the commissioners.
“The sign out there means nothing, in a codified manner, it’s a bluff,” Canen said.
Canen spoke with sheriffs of other towns about similar sites turning into tent cities, especially in the event of the Keystone pipeline possibly coming through Glendive.
Buxbaum suggested a solution of issuing permits at a place in town so once a permit was issued, law enforcement would know if campers had overstayed the length of the permit. He questioned if law enforcement would be able to police the area and monitor the permits if the route of issuing permits was taken.
Although the ordinance was passed, the commissioners on Thursday said they are considering an amendment to the ordinance and are looking into a permit system.
“We just want to know who’s out there,” Buxbaum said.
“You can’t have an ordinance (that allows camping), but have any exceptions,” Buxbaum said.
Reach Kyle Vuille on firstname.lastname@example.org.