Private-land camping startups offer alternative to public lands

This piece appeared in the July 20, 2015 print edition of High Country News:

On a sticky June evening, I pull onto the narrow shoulder of U.S. 30, 12 miles northwest of Portland, Oregon. Cars speed past my little Tacoma camper as I stroll down a short hill singed yellow by the heat wave. Nearly hidden from view behind rambunctious apple trees is Carey Haider’s two-story Quonset hut. Blackberry brambles creep along its edges, growing into a high thicket on the other side of the railroad tracks that run less than 20 paces from his back door. Beyond a towering power line, more mushroom clouds of greenery explode along the banks of the Multnomah Channel, blocking it from view.

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Haider, who sports a beard and suspenders, leads me past an overturned toilet to piles of sledgehammered sheetrock and siding. There, he points out a flat spot where I can park and lay my head for the night. “It looks like a meth house right now,” apologizes the 31-year-old graphic designer and photographer. He bought the property in December and is in the midst of overhauling it. “Whatever,” I tell him. “It beats KOA.”

I mean it, too, even though Haider’s planned noise-blocking fence, camp trailers and wood-fired hot tub aren’t yet in place. Finding a private, pleasant spot to sleep outdoors, especially near a city, can be tough. Try a pullout or parking lot, and you’ll often find a police flashlight in your face at 2 a.m. And state and national park and forest campgrounds overflow with generator-grinding RVs. Haider has signed up with a new Portland-based startup called LandApart to provide campers with another way: Access to private land via an online service. More…

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