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Cozy campouts are close at hand Faced with soaring gas prices, many more people are getting their taste of the wilderness in metro area parks.

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: Pioneer Press
Publish Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Summary: Regional parks officials are seeing an increase in use of metro area campgrounds and are attributing the hike in large part to rising fuel costs.

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Brady Gervais

Jun. 25, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Beth Clifford could have traveled roughly 650 miles to western South Dakota for a weeklong biking and camping trip with her cycling club.

Then gas prices climbed.

So she put her tent in the back of her SUV and drove the half-hour from her Coon Rapids home to the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve in Lino Lakes to camp for the weekend.

'It's one of those things where I'm saying I'm so glad I didn't go to South Dakota,' she said.

Regional parks officials are seeing an increase in use of metro area campgrounds. They attribute the hike in large part to rising fuel costs. Many metro area residents are turning to local campgrounds to get their nature fix, and they're saving money doing it, officials said. Instead of driving north or out of state, they are finding they can have an equal experience just a few miles from home.

Whether campers drive a motor home, haul a trailer or pack a tent, they are feeling the pinch. Gas prices this week hovered around $3.90.

"Since gas prices have gone up significantly from last year, it's kind of logical that one would see an increase (in local camping) because of that," said Arne Stefferud, a planning analyst for the Metropolitan Council's parks program.

For example, camping revenue is up 35 percent over this time last year in Anoka County, said Parks and Recreation Director John VonDeLinde. The county's two campgrounds are already fully booked for the next several weekends. At the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes

campground, sites with modern hook-ups are booked for the next six weekends, VonDeLinde said.

"That's phenomenal. I can't say we've seen that before," he said.

There are 11 campgrounds within the metro area's regional park system, according to the Met Council. They offer amenities similar to those featured at campgrounds in northern Minnesota or out of state, VonDeLinde said. Bunker Hills Regional Park campground in Anoka County has a golf course, a water park, a riding stable, about 10 miles of paved trails, and new picnic and playground facilities. And it gives those living in the cities a sense of being in the middle of nowhere -- almost.

"I think a lot of people now are discovering the jewels in our Minnesota park system," VonDeLinde said. "You don't have to travel far to really have a wilderness-type experience."

Usage at Dakota County's Lake Byllesby Regional Park, whose visitors are typically from the local area, has increased "dramatically" this season, said Beth Landahl, parks operations supervisor. But Lebanon Hills Regional Park, whose patrons typically live outside the metro area, has seen a slight decrease, she said.

"We're thinking fuel prices do have something to do with this," Landahl said.

"We're hoping local residents are seeing this as a low-cost getaway."

Within the next two months, Anoka County commissioners will decide whether to add between 20 and 25 sites and a restroom to Bunker Hills Campground, VonDeLinde said. It would cost roughly $300,000, which would be paid through user fees. Construction could begin this fall, with the new sites opening sometime in 2009.

VonDeLinde said he hopes the demand for camping increases and that this year isn't just an aberration.

If gas prices continue to climb, campers like Tyler Harvey will continue to stay close to home.

It cost him $50 to fill up his sedan before driving to Rice Creek Chain of Lakes from his Minneapolis home Thursday.

"Gas was a pain in the butt," he said.

Brady Gervais can be reached at 651-228-2171.

Camping In The Metro

47 regional parks and park reserves feature 52,000 acres

At least a dozen state and regional parks in the metro have campgrounds

Overnight stays range from $15 to $28 at metro parks

Source: Met Council

Newstex ID: KRTB-0190-26221681


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