Andy Boggs and his crews are typically busy sprucing up campsites on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River this time of year, raking out fire pits, stocking outhouses with toilet paper, even mowing the grass in preparation for a mid-May start to the camping season.
But this spring, the crews ran into an obstacle.
“We can’t even get to some of the sites,” said Boggs, recreation operations manager for the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District of Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
Picnic tables are buried beneath the evidence of a bountiful winter, while access roads remain better suited to snowmobiles than utility trucks.
Near-record snowpack may delay the opening of some of the region’s most popular Forest Service campgrounds, agency officials said.
Some sites may not be open for Memorial Day weekend, when Inland Northwest residents are accustomed to packing up their tents and campers and heading to the woods. In addition, snowdrifts could block access to lookout tower rentals through the Fourth of July weekend. “It’s a little early to tell, but we’re still getting more snow,” said Greg Hetzler, a resource forester in Sandpoint.
He expects the low-elevation Sam Owen campground on Lake Pend Oreille to be open by Memorial Day. However, roads to many destinations in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests remain impassable. Windy Ridge at the top of Fernan Creek – a gateway to the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District – had 12 feet of snow last week, compared to the 3 feet that’s typical for mid-April.
“To think the snow would all melt in the next month and a half is pretty optimistic,” Hetzler said.
At Colville National Forest, access roads to Leo, Gillette, Davis and Trout lakes remain closed. Recreation managers hoped to have the roads plowed and open for the start of the fishing season this weekend, but the snow was too deep, said Donna Nemeth, forest spokeswoman.
“Íf we have two solid weeks of sunshine, we may to able to open all of the campgrounds by Memorial Day,” she said. At least two campgrounds on the forest’s east side – Browns Lake and South Skookum – remain question marks.
“We’re really encouraging people to call ahead before they drive out here in their campers,” Nemeth said.
The outlook for rentals of old Forest Service lookouts is even dicier. At 6,400 feet, the Lunch Peak Lookout Tower in the Cabinet Mountains still has 10 feet of snow, which could push back the July 1 opening date.
At Old Guard Lookout in Idaho’s Shoshone County, Boggs said, getting the access road plowed by the first week in July is iffy even in lighter snow years.
“We might have to send out letters to the renters, notifying them that we have to cancel,” he said.
For early season campers, state parks may be the most reliable choice for Memorial Day. Riverside State Park in Spokane will be open for the three-day weekend, while Idaho’s Heyburn and Farragut state parks have campsites available even earlier.
All campgrounds in the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area will be open for Memorial Day. Visitors to the campgrounds closest to Spokane would have to search pretty hard to find patches of snow, said Pat Michael, south district maintenance supervisor.
“There might be a few snowflakes left under the trees,” he said.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.