Steve and Debbie Henry spent last year’s Memorial Day camping under tarpaulins as wind-whipped rain poured down on their campsite.
“Half our group had to leave. It was like a tropical storm,” Debbie Henry recalled.
This year, campers had the tarps out again - to shield themselves from July-like sunny skies and 80-degree temperatures.
“They said it was supposed to be in the mid-70s,” Henry said, pausing from playing catch near the campsite. “Every time we listen to the radio, it gets hotter.”
Campgrounds throughout North Idaho reported Sunday they were at or near capacity as thousands of people pitched tents and parked recreational vehicles to enjoy the nearly cloudless weekend.
“The weather definitely affected turnout. It’s a beautiful weekend, and people are staying that extra day,” said Heyburn State Park ranger Theresa Perry. There also are more “day use” park visitors showing up for a day of boating, fishing, swimming, Jet-Skiing or playing at the park playground, she said.
“It’s brought out more people, and they’re staying longer,” said Farragut State Park clerk Pat Cole. “Last year, we had just as many people leaving and getting refunds as coming in.”
For the Henrys and their two children, camping was a chance to get away from the telephone and housework. The Spokane family spent the weekend swimming, bicycling and hiking.
“And standing in line for the showers,” chuckled Steve Henry.
At first-come, first-served parks, people showed up days before the weekend to stake out their spots.
Donna Cunningham brought her camper to Heyburn on Wednesday, then went back to work at the hospital in St. Maries.
“We’ve camped off and on here for 15 or 20 years, and if you want a spot, you come out early,” said Cunningham’s daughter, Pam Bertram of Post Falls.
At Priest Lake State Park, most of the 93 sites had been reserved by Wednesday. Tent campers were sent 12 miles down the road to Lion’s Head Campground.
“There’s usually a pretty good chance they’ll get a space up there,” said registration clerk Brad Naccarato. “A lot of them come from Spokane, two hours away at least.”
For recreational vehicle owners, there was a list of people waiting for reserved spots unclaimed by no-shows.
“It’s kind of a sad story sometimes,” said park manager Larry Townsend. “All you can do is turn them away, and generally if we’re full, everyone else is.”
Building more campsites might be a quick fix, he said, but it likely would hurt the environment and the outdoors experience.
“Most people go camping with the expectation that they’ll be farther away from their neighbor than they are in town,” Townsend said. “If your tent pegs are interlaced with their tent pegs, it’s not ideal.”