No more s’mores; no shores
SUMMIT COUNTY – Saturday was Kasey Lannerd’s first time camping this year. Camping has lost its appeal without a campfire.
Campfires are the best part, the Lakewood resident said.
She is not alone in that sentiment. But the campfire ban was only one the of the problems facing Summit County campgrounds this year.
According to campground officials, out-of-state visits were significantly fewer this year. Campgrounds on the shores of Green Mountain and Dillon reservoirs lost campers because of the low water levels. Blue River Campground, north of Silverthorne on Highway 9, was closed first because of an aggressive bear and then because of road construction.
And campground water wells are running dry.
Most campgrounds are closing shop this weekend, quiet after a lackluster season.
Drought hits some campgrounds hard
Garland Young, Thousand Trails area manager for the Holy Cross and Dillon ranger districts, said revenues are down 32 percent for his area, which includes Summit and Eagle counties.
Hardest hit, he said, are those at Green Mountain Reservoir and Pine Cove campground near Frisco.
“We were about 90 percent down in Pine Cove,” Young said. The campgrounds at Green Mountain fared even worse. “It was atrocious. It was kind of like a black hole.”
Campground officials speculated those campgrounds were hardest hit because they are the most popular with boaters.
Dave and Judy Classen work as campground hosts at the Pine Cove and Peak One campgrounds on the Frisco peninsula. The difference invisitors this summer from last is startling, they said.
While Peak One usually filled up with campers on weekends this year, it was down about 20 percent overall, Dave Classen said. And Pine Cove was empty more often than not.
“It was ugly,” he said. “We had very few campers most nights.”
For those campgrounds, the low water meant more than an unusable boat ramp and no waterside campsites.
“We had quite a few instances when big duststorms blew off the lake,” Classen said.
Two loops at the Heaton Bay campground were closed for construction this year, still, the campground was slow during the week, said Ted Call, campground host at Heaton Bay and Blue River campgrounds.
Quite a few people left before their reservations expired, Call said. Some, because of the campfire ban. Others, “what their reason is, we don’t know,” he said.
Sandy Stevens of Denver said she was surprised how few campers were out this weekend.
“Normally, you just can’t find a spot,” Stevens said.
Fewer than 10 campsites were occupied Saturday at the large Prospector campground on Swan Mountain.
Most campers interviewed said they camped less this year, mainly because of the campfire ban.
“I would love to have a fire going – I love it,” said Deborah Trostad of Monument.
For Tami Miller of Denver, Saturday was only her second time camping this year.
“We usually camp every other week,” Miller said. “It’s not as fun without the campfire.”
Miller’s friends were staying only for the day because of the ban, she said.
“Campfires are usually our favorite part,” said Danielle Keller, of Lakewood, who was camping with Lannerd.
“I like waking up to a fire in the morning, at the crack of dawn,” Lannerd said.
Since the nights turned cold a few weeks ago, the campfire ban has been especially hard on those in tents, said Dave Classen.
“You see a lot of people sitting in the cars warming up,” he said.
While some missed the campfires and s’mores, they likely had a quiet night’s sleep.
“The party animals stayed home, which we just loved,” Dave Classen said.
Water wells drying up
Lowry campground regularly has problems with its wells by the end of July, said Young. But it has never run dry.
Campground employees have been hauling water to Lowry and Prospector campgrounds since June, when the wells went dry. Just a few days ago, they added the peninsula campgrounds to their list.
Of the Dillon Reservoir campgrounds, only Heaton Bay still has water. It is connected to Frisco’s water system.
The outlook for next summer?
This year’s drop in revenues will not affect the services at local campgrounds, Young said. As concessionaire for the Forest Service, Thousand Trails will take the brunt of it.
“We won’t cut services back,” he said. “We’re in the business to entice people to come to the campgrounds.”
Young said the Forest Service has begun discussions with Frisco about the possibility of linking the peninsula campgrounds to the town’s water system. The Forest Service will hire a contractor to drill a new well for the Swan Mountain reservoirs.
The worst case scenario, he said, campground employees will continue to haul water, and they may have to opt for portable toilet instead of flushing toilets.
“A good snow fall will help the wells out tremendously and we can live with a low reservoir as long as people can launch boats,” Young said.
Beyond that, “only the weatherman can tell,” he said.
Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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