While Jason and Jessica Matthews' business model falls within the U.S. Forest Service guidelines and they have a Special Use Permit with the STNF to utilize the two campsites between May and October, some locals who traditionally enjoy Tamarack Flat aren't happy with their new neighbors.
Jason and Jessica Matthews have taken their passion for the outdoors and their love of camping to create a new business that showcases the Shasta Trinity National Forest in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Out Livin’ provides “glamping” experiences with all the amenities. Their two sites at Tamarack Flat near Weed are described on the Matthews’ website as “vacation rentals, camping style.”
Guests sleep in spacious canvas wall tents on elevated wooden platforms. The Matthews provide furnishings, a camp kitchen, kitchen essentials, a solar shower, camp toilet, and everything else a camper needs to be comfortable.
And while their business model falls within the U.S. Forest Service guidelines and the Matthews have a Special Use Permit with the STNF to utilize the two campsites between May and October, some locals who traditionally enjoy Tamarack Flat aren’t happy with their new neighbors.
Some have expressed outrage that a private business can profit from public land.
Jennifer Womack, who handles Special Use Permits for the STNF, said she’s received a handful of complaints, although she points out that Out Livin’ is one of about 80 outfitters who have such permits to utilize local forests.
Outfitters and guides offer recreational opportunities on the STNF such as mountaineering; backcountry skiing and split boarding; metaphysical and spiritual tours; fly and lake fishing; rafting; kayaking; lake sport activities; backpacking and hiking; photography workshops; horseback riding; packing and dunnage; outdoor education; and sight-seeing bus tours.
The Matthews’ business model is unique, however, because they have made short term improvements to the site they’re occupying for the season, Womack said.
“Most businesses aren’t as visible. Generally, outfitters are backpacking around camping and although they might occupy the same spot, you wouldn’t necessarily know they’re a business,” Womack said.
The Matthews selected Tamarack Flat, located off of National Forest Road 17, because the Forest Service believed it wasn’t widely used, said Womack.
“We weren’t aware of its popularity,” Womack admitted. “We knew hunters camp there during deer season, but every time we’ve been there, it’s been quiet. We weren’t aware that it’s such a popular spot, but we’re learning otherwise.”
‘Leave no trace’
Tamarack Flat fans should be happy to hear that the Matthews will be packing up camp at the end of October. They plan to occupy a different spot in the STNF each season. It’s part of Out Livin’s sustainability model, said co-owner Jessica.
“Sustainability is at our core. We are locals of the area and absolutely respect, appreciate and value nature,” said Jessica, who has a degree in conservation biology. “I understand first hand the importance of conservation and sustainability and weave my studies and research into our business model.”
The Matthews, who were both raised in Siskiyou County, strategically designed the wooden platforms their tents sit on. They’re not cemented in, so they can be easily moved.
“We abide by the ‘leave no trace’ land stewardship model, and will perform any restoration needed to the areas we utilize at the end of the season,” Jessica said. “All too often we have been frustrated with locals and tourists alike who don't take a sustainable approach to recreating ... Part of what we hope to accomplish is educating those who stay with us on proper land stewardship and being eco-friendly.”
To those who are upset by their presence, Jessica said she understands their concerns. “We are listening and hearing what you are saying, and noting it for the future ... We want to work with the locals wherever possible. Please let us know of sites you would like to see us occupy ... and rest assured that we share the same love for all locations locally as we have grown up exploring and recreating here.”
In a Facebook post that called attention to Out Livin’s presence at Tamarack Flat, some people said the area is being abused. Jessica said she and Jason will be holding their guests and themselves accountable for proper use of the sites.
“Rest assured that we will personally be cleaning up the sites ourselves after each use and at the end of each season,” Jessica said. “No alteration of the landscape has occurred and vehicle traffic is solely where allowed by the Forest Service.”
Special Use Permits
The Matthews worked closely with the Forest Service to obtain their Special Use Permit, Womack said, and there was a lot that went into the process.
In addition to complying with local, county and state laws, regulations, and other legal requirements, Out Livin’ provides an operating plan, trip information, required licenses, appropriate liability and equipment insurance, and site information that are all approved by the Forest Service, Jessica said.
“We are also required to provide safety procedures, essential eligibility criteria, acknowledgement of risk information, and abide by civil rights requirements and Forest Service expectations for outfitter and guide services,” Jessica continued. “This process is detailed, time consuming, and requires meeting with the Forest Service multiple times to ensure all due diligence is done.”
Jessica said she and Jason are also working with the Forest Service on different approaches to select future sites. They’ll be posting signs at possible campsites this season, so the public can comment and raise concerns before their Special Use Permit for the 2021 season is finalized.
Womack said this is the first time the STNF has issued a Special Use Permit for “glamping,” and she’s learning from this experience.
The Forest Service doesn’t generally ask for public input for Special Use Permits that are for a year or less, where there’s no long term investment at the site, Womack said. Longer term permits do trigger a process to obtain public comment.
Examples of long term businesses which operate under Special Use Permits include the Mt. Shasta Nordic Center, the Shasta Mountain Archers archery range near Lake Siskiyou, and the United Methodist Camp on Castle Lake Road. All of these facilities operate on National Forest land, Womack explained.
In addition, events that take place in the National Forest must be permitted, including foot races and other gatherings.
“It’s common practice, not unusual,” Womack said, “and it’s nationwide, not just in the Shasta Trinity. We’re actually small in terms of the number of permits issued.”
In addition to the special use fee of $230 for each of the two sites Out Livin’ is occupying this summer, as well as two site reservation fees, the Matthews are paying 3% of their generated revenue back to the STNF. Womack said 95% of that amount stays local.
The Matthews are also collecting Transient Occupancy Tax (12% of the total cost of the stay) and Siskiyou County Tourism Improvement District taxes (2% of the cost) – both of which stay in the county.
“We want (Out Livin’) to be successful,” said Womack. “We don’t want them to pick spots that people will be upset about.”
Womack said she’s heard concerns that Out Livin’ is a big corporation monetizing the local forest, but she emphasized that the Matthews are local Siskiyou County residents who are doing everything the way they’re supposed to.
From dream to reality
“We have always dreamed of owning a business doing what we love, and we love camping and adventuring in the area,” said Jessica.
“Our campsites help facilitate a disconnection from life’s daily struggles, thus allowing more time to focus on the important things in life that are often ignored – like family relationships, friendships, and one’s personal health and wellbeing,” according to the business website.
Guests need bring only personal items and food for their stay. The rest is taken care of.
The idea for Out Livin’ was hatched four years ago, Jessica said. It took the Matthews two years to make their dream a reality with a specific business model, and then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“Our opening day was pushed back two months,” said Jessica. “We have been following local, state and federal guidelines on opening our business as it relates to the coronavirus and are taking every precaution possible. The plus side is that our sites are secluded and far apart from each other.”
Since officially launching on July 1, Out Livin’ has been getting “a lot of inquiries and some bookings,” Jessica said. “We only just opened but are hopeful that bookings will pick up.”
The Matthews, who have a three month old son together, encourage people to contact them with concerns or questions.
“Everything is by the books and we would be more than happy to chat with you about it,” Jessica said.
More about Out Livin’ can be found at Gooutlivin.com or by calling (530) 924-4460.