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Camping during COVID-19

Mountain communities worry about a rush of people
Posted at 7:25 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 21:25:19-04

PAYETTE NATIONAL FOREST — Mountain communities and the National Forest Service are preparing for the possibility that Governor Brad Little will begin a phased reopening of Idaho's economy, and hoping it won't trigger an influx of people eager to get out of their hometowns and head for the high country.

"Some of our mountain communities, like McCall, they're concerned about that," said Brian Harris, who is a spokesman for the Payette National Forest. Harris, who is now a regional spokesman regarding COVID-19. "You know seventy six percent of homes in McCall are second homes, so people flocking to McCall, are they going to bring COVID-19 with them? You know, the potential is there. We're really hoping the Payette Forest, Valley County and McCall doesn't become the next hot spot in the state for COVID-19.

And if you are thinking about packing up the tent and hitting your favorite spot, remember most are still closed, not necessarily because of Covid-19 concerns, but because they are still buried in snow.

"If a campground is closed it's not necessarily based on COVID-19. It could very well be based on the weather and snow level conditions at that location," said Harris.

A few low elevation campgrounds are actually open right now in the Payette National Forest, along the remote South Fork of the Salmon River. Then there is what the Forest Service calls dispersed camping, which is allowed in many parts of the forest. If you plan on staking out a spot, managers ask that you follow the guidelines of whatever phase of federal and state guidelines we are in at the time. And forest managers will do the same as they determine what campgrounds and other recreational facilities to open.

"Our focus and our interest is to get things open for people to use," said Harris. "But we need to follow CDC guidelines, state guidelines and directives, and federal directives as well."

If you have a reservation, you can check on the status of the campground at recreation.gov . If you choose to cancel, you will receive a full refund. But the majority of the campgrounds in Idaho's forests are first come first served. With Memorial Day weekend just about a month away, many may be anticipating a trip, but if that includes your family, you might want to prepare them for the possibility of having to delay, or maybe come up with a plan B.

"My family likes to camp as much as everybody else does, so we're hoping to get out there" said Harris. "We had some plans for early June, but we might have to push that back. But you know, we're going to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise. But for my family, we want to stay healthy and well at the same time. We're going to follow CDC guidelines, so that we can recreate safely, have an enjoyable time, and of course get back home."