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Bear aware: Tips for camping in bear country

WILDLIFE — The summer camping season is kicking into high gear, putting more people out among wildlife, including bears.

The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project offers basic tips to help campers avoid attracting bears, which can be dangerous to people and destructive to their camping gear.

Worse, a bear that finds value — notably food — in raiding camps almost surely will become a repeat offender that ultimately will have to be killed.

Click “continue reading” to refresh your memory on tips that come from years of case studies:

Sea Kayak Adventures offers discount for orca trips at Johnstone Strait

ADVENTURE TRAVEL  – $200 discounts are being offered for guided six-day sea kayaking trips geared to paddling with orcas off Vancouver Island.

Nancy Mertz, co-owner of Couer-d Alene-based Sea Kayak Adventures, said they have a few slots they’re trying to fill for camping excursions in the famous killer whale waters of Johnstone Strait.

Info: 800-616-1943 or www.seakayakadventures.com.

My wife and I joined one of these groups a few years ago and the exprience of paddling with orcas ranks among the most exciting in our repertoie.

See my short narrated video presentation on the sea kayaking trip to Johnstone Strait above.

Roosevelt headed to full pool by by July 4

RESERVOIRS — The level of Lake Roosevelt is about 1284 on June 22.

The lake is continuing to fill and spill is occurring over the drum gates at Grand Coulee Dam. The peak of the spring runoff is expected in the next two weeks. In addition, increased rainfall has resulted in high inflows into Lake Roosevelt. The predicted amount of rise in lake level is anticipated to be approximately 1 foot per day over the next week. The level of the lake is expected to be 1288 by June 30. The lake is expected to continue to rise .5-.75 feet per day, reaching the full pool elevation of 1290 on July 4.

Be cautious while recreating on Lake Roosevelt over the 4th of July holiday as the lake level will rise and a limited amount of beach will be available around the lake. Shoreline campers are advised to camp well away from the water’s edge.

For a daily lake level forecast call 1-800-824-4916. This forecast is updated at 3 p.m. each day.

Two more days in Buck Knives employee pricing

OUTDOOR GEAR — In case you missed the ad in today's paper, Buck Knives is offering employee pricing on the excellent blades produced in the Post Falls factory through Friday.

Timing considerations: 

  • Fathers Day is Sunday.
  • Camping season is underway.
  • Hunting season is around the corner.

Coeur d’Alene River campgrounds closed for repairs

Kit Price and Devils Elbow Campgrounds are temporarily closed to the public while construction crews work to improve the campground water systems and repave roads, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests announced today.

The popular campgrounds on the North Fork of the Cour d’Alene River about 40 miles north of I-90 at Kingston are scheduled to reopen in July.

Info: Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District: Fernan (208) 664-2318 or Smelterville (208) 783-2363.

National Parks offer free admission June 9

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate Get Outdoors Day on June 9.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2012.

Offering  free admission to national parks and other federal lands has been featured the past three years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

Bear aware: Tips for camping in bear country

WILDLIFE — The summer camping season is kicking into high gear, putting more people out among wildlife, including bears.

The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project offers basic tips to help campers avoid attracting bears, which can be dangerous to people and destructive to their camping gear. 

Worse, a bear that finds value — notably food — in raiding camps almost surely will become a repeat offender that ultimately will have to be killed.

Click “continue reading” to refresh your memory on tips that come from years of case studies: 

Spokane meetings focus on future of state parks

PARKS — Washington State Parks officials have set meetings in Spokane to discuss potentially sweeping changes in management of facilities at Riverside and Mount Spokane.

The meetings will be at Spokane Public Library Shadle Branch, 2111 W. Wellesley Ave. as follows:

Similar meetings across the state will gather public opinion on whether the state parks system would be operated as a private enterprise based on profits generated at the sites or as a public conservation asset.

Other options include turning over more parks to local communities to operate as a non-profit attractions, officials said.

Officials also are asking the public to help them rank the top features of their state parks and what needs improvement, said Virginia Painter, parks spokeswoman in Olympia.

The cash-strapped parks system is trying to make a five-year management plan. The Washington Legislature had voted to wean the parks from all state general funding in the next few years.

Rangers and other staff positions at Riverside and Mount Spokane state parks were cut by 40 percent in Jaunary.

Click here for information about the planning effort and making comments.

Bumper Dumper offers relief with no hitches

CAMPING — Answer the call of nature on your next backcountry drive with the Bumper Dumper, a toilet seat attached to a steel frame that requires only a trailer hitch receiver to turn the back of your vehicle into a veritable port-a-potty making the whole “roughing it” experience a cruise in the park.

Privacy?  It's a free world!

North Cascades Highway is open and ready for recreation

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — The Washington Transportation Department reopened the North Cascades Highway at noon today after seven weeks of blowing and bulldozing snow and avalanche debris off the roadway. 

Bicyclists have been riding open portions of the route for weeks.

The highway closed for the winter in November along a 37-mile stretch between Diablo Dam and Mazama.

The northernmost route through the North Cascades includes the 4,855-foot Rainy Pass and 5,477-foot-Washington Pass in North Cascades National Park, where recreationists are likely to flock for spring snowshoeing and skiing.

Last year the highway reopened on May 25.

St. Joe River Road open to Conrad Crossing

NATIONAL FORESTS — The snow is starting to clear farther up the St. Joe River road for people anxious to get up the river to camp and kayak.

Going into the weekend, the main road is open to Conrad Crossing. Campgrounds are open that far, but they have not been all cleared of leaners and blowdowns.

The North Fork Road is only open to tunnel 4 because of  a slide crews are still trying to clear.

State Parks needs volunteer hosts

STATE PARKS —Volunteer hosts are being sought for some Washington State Parks, officials say.

The hosts greet visitors, assist park staff and perform a variety of duties in return free camping and hookups. Host assignments range from 30-90 days.

Details and host openings are online at www.parks.wa.gov/volunteers.

Info: (360) 902-8612; email Cindy.Jorgensen@parks.wa.gov.

Reduced rate offered at Idaho BLM sites to May 15

PUBLIC LANDS – Discounts on fees for popular North Idaho Bureau of Land Management recreation sites are available through May 15.

 The first fee increase since 2005 will start May 16 at areas around Lake Coeur d’Alene to help maintain the facilities.

 Daily rates will increase at Blackwell Island Recreation Area and the Mineral Ridge Launch area from $4 to $6 per day.   Tent camping at Mica Bay Boater Park, Killarney Lake Recreation Site, Huckleberry Campground and Windy Bay Boater Park will be $10 per night, a $2 increase.  

Trailer camping fees at  Huckleberry Campground along the St. Joe River will rise to $18 per night. 

Season passes for Blackwell Island and Mineral Ridge boat launches cost $30 at BLM’s office in Coeur d’Alene, but the fee will increase to $40 on May 16.  

Most recreation sites are open with the exception of the Blackwell Island Recreation Site.  Because opening the site depends on water levels, the tentative date is set for May 23.  

REI prompts flurry of volunteer work at recreation area sites

Popular recreation sites around Spokane will be getting a major spring facelift this weekend from volunteer efforts supported by grants totaling $20,000 from Recreational Equipment, Inc.

Projects the Spokane outdoor equipment store is supporting in partnership with local groups include:

Centennial Trail, Saturday 9 a.m. – The 20th annual Unveil the Trail event, supported by a $5,000 REI grant to the Friends of the Centennial Trail, taps volunteer groups to spruce up sections of the 39-mile paved trail along the Spokane River. Preregister to join a group and get a free lunch, 624-7188.

Mirabeau Point boat access, Saturday, 9 a.m. – A $10,000 REI grant to the Spokane River Forum funded an overhaul of the Spokane River access for rafts, canoes and kayaks fall. Volunters plan to finish the work and prepare the area for hydroseeding, which is being funded by the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club.

Dishman Hills Natural Area, Sunday, 1 p.m. – Hundreds of volunteers already are signed up for the Earth Day work project to pick up litter, restore habitat, improve trails and other projects based out of Camp Caro in Spokane Valley.  The project is backed by a $5,000 grant to the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association. Preregister for t-shirt and food at www.rei.com/Spokane.

Snow being cleared off North Cascades Highway

MOUNTAIN PASSES —  Crews are working on Highway 20 to clear the North Cascades Highway — the great recreational road between Mazama and Marblemount, through North Cascades National Park.

Snow removal began March 26, with crews working on both the east and west sides of Washington Pass.

  • The east side crew has cleared the roadway to Cutthroat Creek.
  • The west side crew has progressed approximately eight miles above their starting point at the Diablo Gate.

Progress updates are updated here.

Idaho devotes week to getting kids outside and active

OUTDOORS — Citing surveys that indicate kids are spending  up to 30 hours a week dialed in to video games, computers other technology, a several business, agencies and volunteer groups have organized a nifty schedule of free or low-cost outdoor activites and clinics April 21-28 based out of Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls.

Unplug and Be Outside” is promoted by a statewide coalition of agencies and businesses founded in 2008 to “connect children with nature in Idaho, from backyards to mountaintops.”

Activities include archery,fishing, fly tying, frisbee golf, art classes, tennis and golf lessons, preschool storytimes, bike rides, and many, many more programs designed to get kids and adults moving! 

Children will receive passport cards. Those who participate in 3 or more activities will be entered into a drawing to win great prizes, including fishing rods, backpacks, Idaho State Parks pass, water bottles and more!

Click here for details and a schedule of events.

Hikers, bikers have free access to Glacier Park roads

PUBLIC LANDS — Glacier Nationa Park has a special incentive for walkers and cyclists for the next month or so, but especially next week when ntrance fees to Glacier National Park and the nearly 400 National Park Sites across the country will be waived during National Park Week, April 21-29.  

At the same time, plows have begun clearing the roads toward Logan Pass. While motor vehicles are still prohibited, bicyclers and walkers can go progressively farther behind the locked gates as plowing advances.

Currently, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open to motorized traffic from the West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge and from the St. Mary Entrance to Rising Sun.  Hiker/biker access is available for 5.5 miles from the Lake McDonald Gate to Avalanche while the road plow is working.  

This weekend, April 21-22, no restrictions are anticipated for hiker/biker access on the west side or east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The Camas Road is open and the Two Medicine Road on the east side is currently open to Running Eagle Falls.  

Weather conditions in the park can vary greatly from local valley locations, and road status can change depending on weather conditions and snow plowing activities.

Click here to check park conditions and the progess of the plows, or call  (406) 888-7800.

Additional entrance fee-free dates during the year will be June 9 (Get Outdoors Day), September 29 (National Public Lands Day), and November 10 to 12 (Veterans Day weekend).

National Parks offer full week without admission fees

PUBLIC LANDS — National parks will be waiving entrance fees to celebrate National Parks Week April 21-29.

The Park Service is waiving fees for a total of 17 days in 2012.

Offering  free admission to national parks and other federal lands has been featured the past three years as a cost-friendly family vacation option in the economic slump.

Crab Creek angler becomes traveling feast for ticks

FISHING — A friend to took advantage of Tuesday's window of decent weather for an unplanned trip to sample the fly fishing at Crab Creek in Lincoln County.

Although he'd been to the creek and had decent success two weeks earlier, the water was off-color on Tuesday from the recent rain and the fishing was poor, he said.

“I was going to quit but then caught a nice fish so kept going,” he said. “Did not get another.”

But that's not to say he got skunked in every department.

“Part way through the day I stopped counting the number of ticks removed from my clothing at 100,” said.

Brave guy.  When he was at Crab Creek in March, he picked off dozens of ticks in the field, in his vehicle on the drive, and still found four on his chest back home. Then he left on a ski vacation a week later, and found another attached in his scalp. He figures his car still holds Crab Creek ticks waiting their turn. 

When he got home, his wife told him she found several in the sheets when she changed the bedding.

Be careful out there.

Click here to read my detailed primer on hiking and recreating in tick country.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Chilly good-bye: Diary, days 18-21

SNOWMOBILING — The last leg of their adventure following the Iditarod Sled Dog Race started smoothly as Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane left Nome, Alaska, to run back 250 miles to return a borrowed snowmobile at Unalakleet.

But the biggest adventure of the trip that would total nearly 1,400 miles was on its way.
The first day was a sweet 106 miles to a cozy cabin, and the next day another swift 125 miles in cold, clear weather.
Then the blizzard hit. Bob got stuck in a whiteout. Josh fell through a snowbridge and soaked his feet in a creek.
Read on for the details and photos on how they holed up and survived thelast day and night of their irondogging trip on the Iditarod Trail.

Cold overlooked along Iditarod Trail

Septuagenarian Bob Jones of Kettle Falls has chiseled into the frozen culture of arctic Alaska as he's snowmobiled 1,000 miles along the Iditarod Trail.  His diary and photos have been a highlight of my blog for two weeks.

Here's one of Jones's many observations from icy remote villages as he pushed through bitter temperatures:

“Cold weather is never a conversation topic among Alaska villagers. When it drops to 30 below, they just put on another layer of clothing and go about their business.”

Of course, it might be different if Alaska villagers had to come up with something quick to say on an  elevator lift to their office.

See Bob Jones's Diary and photos, days 1-6.

See Diary and photos for days 7-10.

See Diary and photos for days 11-12.

See Diary and photos for days 13-14.

See Nome Sweet Nome: Diary and photos for Day 15.

See Diary and photos for days 16-17.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 13-14

SNOWMOBILING — “I'm too tired to even look at pictures,” snowmobiler Bob Jones said in an email from the tiny village of Golovin on the Iditarod Trail. (Additional photos will come later and be posted here.)   He'd just put in an 11-hour  day that extended well into the night to reach a place where he and Josh Rindal could get out of the cold for a few hours of sleep before continuing their 1,000-mile journey to Nome following the Iditarod Trail.

Despite a fierce cold and a major breakdown that forced them to find a snowmobile to borrow, Jones, from Kettle Falls, and Rindal, from Spokane, have an outside chance of making the Mushers Banquet in Nome tonight (March 18) — if they can make the last 90 brutal miles in one day.

“It will be a cold ride, just like today's was,” Jones reported. “It's -9º and breeze outside as I write this from the library at the Golovin school.  It's about +70º in here and my sleeping bag is only about 5 feet away on a pad on the floor.”

Then he crashed and slept like a bear in winter… until early the next morning when he filed his diary for two days (click continued reading below) and offered these additional updates:

Mileage: Nearly 1,000 miles so far out of a total trip that will reach about 1,300 miles if they return to Unalakleet as planned.

He had one final thought about his cozy quarters on the library floor before heading out in the bitter cold for another long day: “This is a beautiful school. Probably costs more on a cost-of-heat-per-kid basis than anywhere in the Lower 48!”

I replied to Jones noting that he was an ironman model for people older than 70. “I wonder what all the other septuagenarians in Kettle Falls are doing today?” I poked.

“Being more intelligent!” he replied.

Click “continue reading” to see Jone's Iditarod diary and photos.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 11-12

SNOWMOBILING — Chilled but not chilled out, Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane contginued their snowmobile trek along the Iditarod Trail even though the Iditarod sled dog race is is over and the winners have packed up for home.

“Zero degrees here last night with nary a cloud in the sky.  The most perfect day for traveling imaginable,” Jones said, indicating he was happy to still be on the trail.

“The sun is getting some power and sometimes we can feel the heat through our thick clothing.

“Machines are running fine and things are going great!”

On days 11 and 12  they continued to enjoy hospitality from natives with only a few stressful encounters with deep snow in the arctic cold.

Read on for more of Jones's diary and photos.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Volunteers needed to score recreation grant requests

OUTDOOR RECREATION — The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office is looking for nearly 70 volunteers to help determine how millions of dollars in state grants should be spent in Washington’s great outdoors.

The volunteers will score grant applications submitted in two statewide programs: 

  • The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which provides grants to build and renovate parks and trails, and to protect and restore valuable wildlife habitat and farmland.
  • The Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, which provides grants to restore Washington shorelines and create access for people to the waterfront.

The grants are awarded to cities, counties, state agencies, tribes and others.

Read on for details.

Top 5 skills learned in Spokane Mountaineers Backpacking School

HIKING – A few spots are open for the annual Backpacking School taught on Friday evenings over two months by the Spokane Mountaineers

School directors Jeff and Deb Harris offered good reasons for joining the classes. Students will learn and refine their skills in everything from gear selection and navigation to cooking and camp-making tips.

But the Harris's suggest the top five lessons to learn are more subtle:

  1. Know the limits and capabilities of your gear, your body and your mind and respect them.
  2. Tell others you trust about your primary plans, alternate plans and what time you are expected back.
  3. Being in the wilderness does not mean you are exempt from taking care of yourself.  Good hygiene and nutrition are still important.
  4. Be respectful of the landscape, wildlife and terrain you are traveling in.
  5.  In many situations, there are several ways to go about doing things.  Find something that works for you and have fun. 

The Backpacking School starts March 30.

Info: 879-5275, email jeffanddebharris@gmail.com

Do News Quiz and win tickets to Big Horn Show

Timely prizes are being offered to people who complete The Spokesman-Review weekly News Quiz dated March 11.

1) Two tickets to the first two rounds of the NCAA women's basketball tournament in Spokane, and

2) Two tickets to the Bighorn Outdoor Adventure Show which starts today Thursday and runs through Sunday at Spokane County's Fair and Expo Center.

Simply take the quiz, and you're eligible to win drawings that will be held Friday.

The overall champ wins a $50 gift card to the Davenport hotel. Good luck to everyone!