Campers, some newbies, head to campgrounds for the holiday in the Red River Valley


At Sherlock Campground, inside the Red River State Recreation Area in East Grand Forks, Marlin Ravndalen, the matriarch of her large clan of family members gathered there, said it was birthdays that brought everyone together. The family is spread out between locations in northern Minnesota, Grand Forks and Bismarck.

About a dozen people, from infants to great-grandparents, gathered at that campsite, decorated with balloons, to celebrate and play games on their three-night trip.

“We have about six birthday parties going on here,” Ravndalen told the Herald.

Catherine Johnson, campground manager there, said more than 90 sites were booked out of the 113 available. The season, she said, has been going well, despite a protracted start that saw the campground open in mid-June, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Johnson, the park will miss out on revenue because of that late start, but overall, camping reservations across Minnesota have been up, as people look for safe activities they can do during the pandemic.

Still, because of COVID, the situation isn’t nearly the same as last year. Johnson said the park would normally be fully booked, when Canadians visit the region. That won’t happen this year, as the border has been closed since March. Some campers, she said, were surprised they could even get a site, since they are used to the campground being full. Also, the park isn’t offering its usual activities, such as night hikes and geocaching.

“We can’t do archery because it would be too much time to clean all the equipment in between use,” Johnson said.

The Larimore Dam Campground and Recreation area didn’t even open a portion of its campground this year. The recreation area has 125 sites for seasonal campers — people who pay to use those sites for the entire year. As in East Grand Forks, a few of those sites remain empty, because Canadian campers who have paid for them aren’t able to visit.

“We have 12 sites that we save just for weekend guys, or nightly use; one night at a time,” said Matt Bornsen, the campground’s manager. “We didn’t open those this year, those just stayed shut all year.”

Turtle River State Park was full for the holiday weekend, as is Icelandic State Park, 6 miles to the west of Cavalier. There, manager Mike Duerre said the park has been busy over the summer, especially on the weekends. That campground usually draws Canadian campers as well, but people have been visiting from Fargo, Grand Forks and other areas across North Dakota and Minnesota, to stay in the park’s 150 campsites.

Duerre said it has come up in conversation with some campers that they were looking for a campground set in an area that had a lower risk factor for COVID-19. Grand Forks County, along with seven other counties, were reclassified on Sept. 3 by Gov. Doug Burgum, as being in the “moderate risk” category for COVID-19. Pembina County, where Icelandic State Park is located, is considered to be in the “low risk” category.

On a bright note for campgrounds this year, the coronavirus pandemic has brought out people who are new to camping. Duerre said he is seeing more people this year camp in tents, a vastly more affordable option for people looking to just get started. In East Grand Forks on Saturday, tents, though not nearly as numerous as RVs, dotted the campground.

“We’ve got a lot more people trying camping out,” Duerre said. “Tenting is the easiest entry into that.”



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