Be ready for extra massive crowds at Washington’s campgrounds | Open air and Recreation

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State officials recommend planning early and developing alternatives for those looking to join the crowds that flock to public campsites when the Washington weather warms.

“We can assume that the demand for campsites and campsites will be high again,” said Robin DeMario, spokesman for the forest service. “We ask people to show their patience and goodwill because so many of the popular spots will fill up quickly.”

Trevor Bolls of Rocky Mountain Recreation has seen evidence of this while working as a contractor for several Forest Service recreation areas. At the Kachess campsite near Cle Elum, according to Bolls, more than 2,500 people have already reserved around 8,000 nights for spring and summer 2021.

According to spokesman Toni Droscher, 15 percent more people camped in the state parks from July to October 2020 than usual. She noted that several more websites were added in 2019 when the agency switched to a new reservation software program.

“People could consider mid-week or off-season stays and stay in less popular parks,” Drescher said. “Maybe you pick a region to stay in and see the different parks in that region.”

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Paige DeChambeau said most of their campsites, including those in the Ahtanum National Forest, do not allow reservations. She expects large crowds with lots of indoor activities that are still closed due to the pandemic or are limiting capacity.

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All state camping reservations can be made through recreation.gov, although at least 40 percent of campsites in each Forest Service first-come-first-served recreation area. DeMario said Washington campsites were filled to typical weekend levels practically every day for the past year, and she recommended arriving early with an alternative.

These large crowds bring additional concerns, particularly litter and an increased risk of forest fires. DeMario encouraged people to follow the “Leave No Trace” principles and emphasized the importance of burying or packaging human waste.

State parks should benefit from additional funding given by state lawmakers. According to operations manager Ed Girard, the agency was able to hire more employees. They have also moved some resources to hire more seasonal workers and plan to make “mission-centric enforcement” a priority during their annual spring training.

Similarly, DeChambeau said DNR is working on recovery-specific Wildfire Prevention Messaging to be released in the coming months. DeMario praised outdoor enthusiasts who were already putting out fires and picking up additional rubbish, noting that the Forest Service, like DNR, is hoping to resume volunteer work groups that have largely been canceled due to restrictions on large groups.

“It’s hard to say because we want to stick to pandemic safety,” DeMario said. “We’ll wait and see what we can safely do.”

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