It’s not bears Priest Lake campers fear this holiday weekend, it’s a forest full of biting, buzzing mosquitoes.
A wet spring spawned a bumper crop of the blood-sucking pests in North Idaho. The swarms are at their worst at Priest Lake. It’s so bad, some campers have packed up and headed for less infested territory.
“They are thick. We’ve lost a few people because of the mosquitoes,” Dean Minard said. He’s the host at Beaver Creek Campground. The popular spot sits near the top of Priest Lake and across the water from, well, Mosquito Bay.
“For those of us from states that don’t have mosquitoes, like Arizona, this can be a bit on the irritating side,” Minard said. “This is the worst I’ve seen them.”
Campers are slathering on mosquito repellent, building smoky fires and even trying home remedies like eating lots of garlic to keep the bugs at bay.
“I haven’t tried the garlic yet but some people swear by it,” Minard said.
Priest Lake Ranger Kent Dunstan said he hasn’t seen a hatch of mosquitoes this bad in the four years he’s been at the lake. The only place he recalled being worse was Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo. It was impossible there to take a breath without sucking the insects into your mouth or nostrils, he said.
“It’s not that bad here, but when you get into the woods there are some big, hungry mosquitoes. Someone could make a lot of money going to the campgrounds and selling repellent,” he joked.
Typically the mosquito population at the lake dwindles by the Fourth of July. But Dunstan said there hasn’t been enough sun to dry things out. Spring flooding and constant rain has left swampy areas throughout the Panhandle. The little pockets of water are ideal breeding ground.
Under the right conditions, the pests can mature from egg to adult in one week, said Marc Klowdan, a professor of entomology at the University of Idaho.
“You can be inundated with an incredible number of mosquitoes in a very short time,” he said. Only female mosquitoes bite. They need the blood to nurture their eggs. Females can lay 100-150 eggs at a time and deposit them on the water every two days, said Klowdan.
Unlike many other mosquito in fested states, Idaho does not have a program to spray or control the insects.
“I think people here just consider it part of the wilderness experience,” Klowdan said. “They are not a real public health nuisance. They are just a nuisance because they bite.”
Some Priest Lake campers have fled to Sam Owen Campground east of Sandpoint. Campground manager Stewart Fry insists there are no mosquitoes there.
“This is my second year here and we haven’t had any problem, but our Priest Lake managers are really screaming,” he said.
Upper and Lower Luby Bay have thick swarms, as does most of the west side of Priest Lake. Still, the campgrounds are nearly full.
Minard suggests campers burn wet or green wood to create a smoke screen from the bugs, bring extra cans of repellent and, if possible, a camper to hide in if all else fails.
“Everyone is just kind of joking about it now,” he said. “It’s bad but these people really want to camp.”
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