Weekend Camping Plans Undeterred

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May 20, 2008 by   - () Leave a Comment

Skyrocketing gasoline prices nearing $4 a gallon are not scaring campers and their big rigs from Wisconsin state parks, the director said Monday (May 19).
"Our advance reservations are up 7% over last year," said Bill Smith of the state Department of Natural Resources. "We are expecting a very active summer. We are not seeing any trends suggesting a high level of cancellations."
The long Memorial Day weekend starting Friday night traditionally kicks off the summer season, and campgrounds in the state parks will be full like they always are, he said, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Smith expects the trend to continue all summer.
Rising gasoline prices will cause some families to rethink their vacation plans and lead to shorter trips, which makes camping in a state park more in demand, he said.
"They are going to end up vacationing in their backyard, and Wisconsin is the backyard to an awful lot of people from the Twin Cities area and the Chicago area," Smith said.
Wisconsin has nearly 60 state parks with 4,600 camping spots, said Dave Benish, the DNR's camping program manager. The most popular 15 parks charge $15 a night for a rustic site for a camper from Wisconsin; $20 if the site has electricity.
One of the most popular parks is Peninsula State Park in the tourist haven of Door County, with 467 camping spaces.
"We don't have any evidence of a rash of cancellations or anything like that," park manager Tom Blackwood said Monday. "We are full for the weekend."
Many of the camping reservations for Memorial Day were booked 11 months ago and are already paid for, providing a financial incentive not to change plans, he said.
"Maybe people who like to come twice will think more about the second visit. Who knows?" Blackwood said.
Benish said 32,000 campground reservations have been booked so far. Last year, for the entire season, 114,621 reservations were made.
Dale Reuter and his wife checked into Peninsula State Park on Monday afternoon for four days of camping. Gasoline selling for $3.80 a gallon at the couple's home in De Pere, Wis., got passing reference when it came to deciding to take the trip, Reuter said.
"I was aware of it," the 60-year-old retiree said. "We had already booked the site. We like the park a lot."
It will take gasoline prices of $5 a gallon and more to really dramatically affect the couple's traveling plans, Reuter said.
1% Drop in Weekend Travel
Pam Moen, a spokeswoman for AAA Wisconsin in Madison, said a regional survey of states including Wisconsin indicated 5.7 million people will travel during the Memorial Day weekend, down 1% from a year ago due to high gasoline prices and a sluggish economy.
She called it a significant drop.
"It is the first time in recent years that we have actually seen fewer people expecting to travel for Memorial Day compared to previous years," Moen said. "It is the first time that we can definitely say yes, prices have reached a point that people are starting to make some significant changes to their plans."
A year ago, the average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline in Wisconsin on Memorial Day was $3.43, Moen said. Two years ago, the price was $2.89 and five years ago it was $1.57.
The average statewide price Monday was an all-time high of $3.87 a gallon, Moen said.
A big pickup that gets 8 miles per gallon pulling a camping trailer would need to buy about 38 gallons of gasoline for a 300-mile roundtrip. A year ago, the fuel expense was $130. Assuming $4-a-gallon gasoline now, the same amount of fuel costs another $22.
Blackwood said it was just a guess on whether that difference in fuel expenses would cause campers to drastically revamp their plans as the summer progresses.
"I wouldn't give up a beautiful site on Nicolet Bay for an extra $10 in gas," he said.

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