It will cost more than ever to get to campgrounds and tourist hot spots this Memorial Day weekend.
The average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline hit an all-time high of $1.47 on Wednesday, according to the American Automobile Association’s weekly survey of eight Spokane gas stations.
The previous high was $1.46 during the Persian Gulf War. The average was $1.23 this time last year.
The increase means people who cram their tents, sleeping bags and kids into a Honda Civic that gets 30 miles per gallon will spend $2.56 more than last year making the 320-mile round trip to campgrounds near Libby, Mont.
The drive will cost an additional $15.36 for someone whose Winnebago sucks a gallon of gasoline for every five miles of road.
Despite lofty gas prices, campgrounds are expected to fill up as people afflicted with cabin fever celebrate the traditional start of summer. Anyone who hasn’t made reservations or sent an advance party probably won’t get a campsite with a lake view.
“If they decide Saturday morning that they want to go camping, they can get a map and look for the (campgrounds) that are far away” from popular lakes and paved roads, said Diana Baxter of the U.S. Forest Service office in Colville, Wash.
Or latecomers might have luck sticking closer to home, considering the National Weather Service’s prediction for mostly dry weather with highs near 70 degrees.
“If we get any good weather, I think people are going to go out of town” rather than filling the campground at Riverside State Park, said park manager Gary Herron.
On the other hand, if today’s weather unexpectedly turns nasty, Herron said his campground, on the western edge of Spokane, could fill fast tonight and Saturday morning.
“People will say, ‘Well, this is close. If it gets miserable, we’ll go home,”’ Herron said.
Either way, he said, the campground should be full by Saturday night.
For a guaranteed campsite, go beyond the end of the map.
Canadians had their long Victoria Day holiday last weekend, so “we don’t expect anything to fill this weekend,” said Gord McAdams, British Columbia Parks extension officer in Nelson.
An example of what’s available: 133 sites at Kokanee Creek Provincial Parks, about three hours north of Spokane. Gas is more expensive in Canada, but the campground is just $12 Canadian (about $9 U.S.). And firewood is free at all of British Columbia’s provincial parks.
“We do one fee for everything, eh?” said McAdams.
Of course, camping is just one option. There are plenty of others.
The Seattle SuperSonics play postseason games against the Utah Jazz today and Sunday. Both basketball games are televised, as is the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
Silverwood Theme Park is open in North Idaho. Or, try either of the new thriller movies starring Tom Cruise and Helen Hunt.
For amusement that’s cheaper and more sedate, watch “Toy Story” at the Garland Theater, where admission is $1. It is the theater’s only offering this weekend, with six showings a day.
For people who don’t want to camp, don’t want to stay home and don’t want to go far, some hotels and resorts close to Spokane have a few rooms left.
“I think it’s a little bit slower than it has been in the past,” said Sandy Shannon, night supervisor at Templin’s Resort in Post Falls. She blamed it on the weather and the closure of the Post Falls Greyhound Park.
Of course, vacations, movies and sporting events all get away from the original intent of the holiday that originally was called Decoration Day. It stems from the tradition of rural residents spending a summer day scrubbing tombstones and sprucing up cemeteries, typically combining the chores with family reunions and picnics, according to “The Folklore of American Holidays.”
During the Civil War, some Southern women chose May 30 as the time to honor dead Confederate soldiers. The Union followed suit, and the day became a federal holiday.
In 1971, Congress moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. Veterans groups protested, saying they feared the meaning of the holiday would be forgotten if it was part of a long weekend. Washington state followed the federal lead in 1976.
Dennis Fairbank, general manager of St. Joseph’s Cemetery in the Spokane Valley, said plenty of people still bring flowers, flags and other remembrances to the cemetery each year. In fact, he thinks the tradition is stronger now than it was 25 years ago, when he got into the business.
Many people now pay their respects the Thursday or Friday before Memorial Day, Fairbank said. That way, they still have the weekend to play.
For florists, the holiday is not nearly as busy as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Christmas, said Marci Smith, design manager at Quality Florist in Spokane. Most people prefer to take flowers from their own yards, she said.
“This year, it’s much busier because we have a late spring,” she said. “The lilacs are done and there aren’t any other flowers out yet.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HOLIDAY SCHEDULE Many services will be affected by the Memorial Day holiday: Schools: Schools will be closed until Tuesday. Mail: No delivery Monday. Parking meters: Parking is free Monday. Government: City, county, state and federal offices are closed Monday. Garbage pickup: No pickup Monday. City and county garbage collectors will pick up trash a day later than usual through next Saturday. Buses: Spokane Transit Authority buses will run on a holiday schedule Monday, and resume the weekday schedule Tuesday. Libraries: Spokane city and county libraries are closed Monday.
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