Mississippi River's Flooding Curtails Camping

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July 9, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

Several state parks (marked in green) and private campgrounds (such as the Bass Camp marked by a red pin) in southeast Minnesota (left side of map) and southwest Wisconsin (right side of map) are attractive to campers.

Business has been good this year for campgrounds in southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin — except for those on the Mississippi River.

The wet weather and high water levels on area rivers have flooded or threatened to flood some campsites, and many river-based resorts rely on interest from boaters and anglers who have been turned off by this year’s conditions, the Winona (Minn.) Daily News reported.

When you run a recreation business, it all depends on the weather.

“Things have been a little slow this year,” said Bass Camp owner Mike Rolbiecki, owner of Bass Camp near Minnesota City, Minn. “The camping side has been great, but fishing has been slow.”

Rolbiecki said the resort lost a lot of Memorial Day business due to the weather. Overall, business is down 30% to 40%, he said.

“The only thing that gets us is the weather,” he said. “We could always use more business. But things are pretty good with our regulars.”

Rolbiecki said business with seasonal customers who rent spaces long-term has picked up this year and made up for the loss of business from overnight campers. The resort also does good business with its mobile home park, primarily used by those looking for a vacation or summer home.

Zeb Allert, manager at Pettibone Resort and Campground near La Crosse, Wis., has seen an uptick in seasonal campers as well, which he attributed to interest after the good camping weather last year. But he said he is worried about losing some customers after flooding in the campground has kept some from being able to use those sites.

“Last year was exceptional for the weather,” he said. “This year we are about two months behind. We didn’t really open until the weekend before Memorial Day.”

Pla-Mor Campground has had a good year, despite the weather. The campground on Hwy. 61 between Winona and La Crosse is far enough from the river to avoid the problems it has caused this year.

New owner Sandy Prenot said May wasn’t the best month due to the late snow and the cold, but after the weather warmed up a little, the campground started doing a good amount of business.

Prenot said camping has become more popular in recent years, with people trying to save money by vacationing locally and campgrounds offering competitive lodging rates compared to more expensive resorts and hotels.

“People do not want to pay for hotels,” she said. “We’re close to Winona and La Crosse, and we’re more affordable.”

Allert agreed that more and more people are looking at camping in order to save money. He compared the overnight rate of about $39 to the cost of a hotel room which can be more than $120 at some locations.

“We try to make it as affordable as we can,” he said. “We are pretty fortunate here down by the river. We are far enough away from town to not be bothered, but close enough if you need something.”

In the end, Allert said, due to the amount of outdoor recreation opportunities in the region, there will always be a strong demand for camping and outdoor lodging. Only about 10% of Pettibone’s seasonal customers come from the area, Allert said — the rest are from out of town.

Despite the downturn this year, the campground is still keeping most sites filled.

“It’s good, but it has its upswings and downswings,” he said. “If it’s rainy and it’s flooding out, you can tell. When it’s sunny out and people are having fun, the total aura of the campground does change.”


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