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Campers find a nearby home away from home as gas prices rise

Source: La Crosse Tribune
Publish Date: Saturday, May 24, 2008
Summary: AAA predicts 31.7 million Americans will travel by automobile, a 1 percent decrease from last year.

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By Chris Hubbuch

May 24, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Cheryl Gross lives in La Crosse, but from April 15 to July 31, she and her husband make their home a few miles down the road at Goose Island Campground.

They don't exactly rough it in their 28-foot trailer camper, which has a bedroom, bathroom and full kitchen as well as a television and laptop computer.

For hundreds of La Crosse area people like them, Goose Island is a place to get away from it all without really getting very far away.

One of two La Crosse County campgrounds, it opened for the season April 12, but the Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the real action.

"It's just the beginning of it all," said manager Ida Christenson. "It's like the first day of summer."

Christenson expected all 326 sites would be filled this weekend but said she doesn't expect to see as many transients.

"I think it's because of the price of gas," she said.

The story seems to be the same at other campgrounds.

Lori Severson is executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners, which represents 220 private campgrounds.

"I think people are traveling a little closer to home," she said. "Campgrounds tend to pull from two to three hours away. Now we're seeing it more like an hour."

Record gas prices are expected to keep a lot of people at home this holiday weekend. AAA predicts 31.7 million Americans will travel by automobile, a 1 percent decrease from last year. That would be the first such decrease this decade. Those who do travel say they will stick closer to home, as well as spend less on lodging, meals and souvenirs, according to the survey by the Travel Industry Association.

Sarah and Gary Lamprecht have been camping for about five years. Sarah said they always go to Goose Island for holiday weekends. They don't pull a trailer but pitch a tent.

Their friend at the campfire Thursday night wouldn't give his name but did offer a tour of his tent, which had two full-sized beds, electric lights and a heater.

"I don't suffer," he said.

Not everyone at Goose Island was local.

Marc and Roberta Roberts of Edgerton, Wis., pulled in Thursday evening with their new, 40-foot Cyclone, which even has a garage for their two Harley-Davidsons.

Marc, a retired GM autoworker, and Roberta, a bookkeeper, grew up in the La Crosse area and come back every summer for holidays. Their diesel-powered GMC Sierra pickup got about 10 miles per gallon pulling the camper.

"I thought that was good," Marc said.

Severson expects campgrounds to see more seasonal campers this year, people like Gross who leave their campers up all summer.

Gross is not sure what kind of gas mileage they get when hauling it behind their old pickup. "Not very good," she said. "We bring it down here and we take it back. That's it."

Chris Hubbuch can be reached at (608) 791-8217 or

Newstex ID: KRTB-0250-25517007

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