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Lost and Found: What to do when you find something in the Woods

Several years ago, my good friend, Steve, left his $400 TNF rain parka behind at a popular campsite. We paddled a full days distance from the campsite before we had figured out that it was left behind. I offered to paddle back to the site with him through the night and let the other two in our party remain behind, but he didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. Several days and one garbage bag later, we got to our cars, and Steve reported the lost jacket to the local Forest Service office. He never did get the coat back. So, what should you do if you find a lost item in the woods?

Report the Lost Item

First, if you have lost an item on public land, report that loss to the local authorities responsible for the land. If you were in a park, report it to the park ranger or park office. On many large federal areas, there will be several offices, so make sure to contact them all. If in a city, contact the police department for further details.

Report the Found Item

If you find an item, the first response is often, “Sweet, I just got a $400 jacket for free!!!” This is just human nature responding to the old adage, “Finders keepers losers weepers.” And, although, this is basic human nature to feel this way, you should keep in mind that someone just lost a $400 jacket, so just image how you would feel if you lost the same.

After you get over this feeling and after hauling the lost gear out of the woods, you need to get in touch with the local authorities. Figure out who is responsible for the location where you found the item and give them a call or stop by their office. They may ask you for the item for their lost and found, or they may allow you to keep the item. Try and arrange a time frame for the owner of the item to come forward. Four months is a good limit here. If at the end of this period, an owner fails to come forward make it clear that you will claim the item. Most authorities are more than willing to accommodate this request. If they refuse to cooperate, then it is up to you whether to turn the item over or just leave your phone number. In either case, leave your address and phone number so if someone comes forward they can send you a thank you note. You’ve now done your work.

Waiting for the Loser to Find the Loss

After you’ve done these steps, you can wait. If you’ve lost the item, try calling the authorities office every other week for the first four months, then try once a month for the next year or until you’ve resigned yourself to the loss. If the item is there, see if the person who found the item left an address where you can send a thank you note.

On the other hand, if you’ve found an item, call back after the arranged period, and see if anyone has claimed it. When you find out that someone has, celebrate that you helped make their day. If the item is still there, celebrate that you got an item for free.

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By following these steps, you will help all outdoor adventures and maybe you will find something you lost someday in the office of the local ranger. Oh ya, if you found a green $400 TNF on the Brule in the BWCA in the Fall of 2002, I know the owner, so drop me an email.