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By John Kruse
For The Sentinel 

The Washington Outdoors Report: Can we go camping Memorial Day weekend?

 


Memorial Day weekend is heralded as the kickoff to the summer camping season, but the COVID-19 pandemic will change that this year. In Washington, the majority of state parks (except for several in the Columbia River Gorge and along the Washington Coast) are open for day use, but they will not open up for camping until at least June 1. That’s when the majority of the state is poised to move into Phase 2 of our recovery efforts, which includes the resumption of camping.

I contacted Anna Gill with Washington State Parks to ask about whether parks in counties that have already moved to Phase 2 (Columbia, Garfield, Ferry, Lincoln, Stevens, Wahkiakum, Skamania, and Pend Oreille) would be open for camping over Memorial Day weekend. She responded by saying camping would not resume at state parks in those counties until the entire state enters Phase 2.

The same question was poised to Paige DeChambeau with the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Staci Lehman with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. DeChambeau said, “Further direction will be needed from the governor’s office before any plans can be finalized, but we are hoping to target a June 1 statewide camping reopening…. We want to encourage people to try and stay close to home for a while longer.” Lehman with WDFW echoed the same message.

As for our national forests? Right now, developed campgrounds, picnic areas, and trailheads are closed. Catherine Caruso with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Regional Office says, “Developed day use recreation sites will be opening up gradually throughout the month. These day use sites include developed trailheads and picnic areas. Campgrounds will likely not be opening prior to Memorial Day weekend.”

In addition to this, visitor centers (such as the ones found at Mount St. Helens) will probably remain closed through May. In central Washington, there is no firm answer as to whether Icicle River Road near Leavenworth, with a number of popular trailheads, campgrounds and developed recreation sites, will open before the end of the month. However, the Forest Service did announce no overnight camping by hikers will be permitted in the popular Enchantments area of the Alpine lake Wilderness through the end of May.

As far as national parks go, Mount Rainier remains hard to visit, with the main Nisqually entrance and Carbon River entrances closed. All lodges, visitor centers, campgrounds, and trailheads also remain closed. At Olympic National Park, many of the roads are open, but just about everything else is closed, and at North Cascades National Park Denise Schulz, chief of Visitor Services, stated “The entire park complex is closed….It is yet to be determined what, if any, areas of the park complex might be open by Memorial Day weekend.”

Meanwhile, the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area does have boat launches open as water levels allow but campgrounds, toilets and fish cleaning stations are closed. Trash collection is also not taking place.

Moving on to the Bureau of Land Management the developed recreation sites east of the Cascades that were closed due to COVID-19 have reopened, but only for day use activities.

Finally, several private fishing and camping resorts have opened though others remain closed. Some of the ones we found open for business included MarDon Resort at Potholes Reservoir in Grant County, Liar’s Cove Resort at Conconully Lake in Okanogan County, and the Beaver Lodge Resort on Lake Gillette near Colville. However, every one of these resort owners told me their camping and campground/RV sites are completely booked for Memorial Day weekend. Having said that, it might be worth calling a few other private resorts to see if space is available. It’s unlikely, but there’s a small chance you can salvage a traditional Memorial Day weekend with camping and time at the lake at a private resort.

For the rest of us though, access and overnight stays at many of our favorite places is not in the cards this Memorial Day. Instead, follow the advice of state health officials and enjoy a day trip to public lands and parks that are open, sticking close to home over the long weekend. After a day at the park, on the water or in the woods head back home. There you can grill up something outside and enjoy some time with family around a fire pit (where allowed). Those marshmallows and hot dogs burn the same whether you are at the campground or in the backyard.

 

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