As Okanogan County has opened up to more travel and with public campgrounds in phased stages of reopening, private campgrounds in the Methow Valley are seeing increased use.
Campground owners, meanwhile, are hustling to meet state requirements for cleaning and sanitizing. From the Rendezvous Huts to the Carlton RV Park, private owners are learning that offering camping experiences during a global pandemic takes a lot more time.
Shane Voigt, who owns Riverbend RV Park near Twisp, said “I have significantly altered my operations here.” Due to cleaning and sanitizing requirements that are simply not feasible for a small business, Riverbend’s basketball court, playground, rec hall, and laundry rooms are closed, said Voigt.
“I just don’t have the time or the staff to sanitize everything all the time,” he said. Riverbend’s common bathrooms and dog park remain open.
Voigt points out that with many amenities in his campground, it’s not practical to follow the state’s guidelines for disinfecting, which include venting a room for 20 minutes if possible, then cleaning, then disinfecting.
“The list of high-touch items to clean and disinfect contains pretty much everything you would expect, and some you wouldn’t,” he said. For example, “Books are on the list. I have no idea how you are supposed to sanitize a book.”
Silverline Resort on Pearrygin Lake has been facing similar issues getting COVID-19 protocol in place for staff and customers. Owners Dan and Kristi Brookshire report that they have trained and brought staff on for the season, and are in the process of reopening resort facilities, such as the retail camp store. All of the rentals (pedal boats, paddleboards, kayaks, fishing boats, and mini-golf) are available during office hours, but the Silverline is holding off on the pancake breakfast for now.
Both Voigt and the Brookshires note that visitors have been accommodating. The Brookshires said, “The general sense we are getting is that folks are ready and willing to follow protocol.” Voigt reported that “So far, everyone has been very understanding and happy to work with me and comply. Everyone knows times are different and there’s a transition period. They’re just grateful to be here.”
Voigt said that many customers are fairly self-contained and not even using amenities like the campground bathrooms; the Brookshires, too, have noticed that self-sufficiency is high, with campers “coming prepared with their own food.”
Some campground owners report seeing an increase in reservation requests — a “huge increase,” said the Brookshires. Voigt thinks that June 2020 reservations are “on par with last year,” with possibly “a slight uptick.”
It’s hard to tell for sure, Voight said, “because I have so many cancelations I don’t know if the new reservations coming in are taking the place of ones I would have had or are in addition to.” May “was a bust,” Voigt added, “but had I been open it would have far exceeded last year.”
Silverline Resort, too, is receiving cancelations, many from Canadian visitors, as well as others from local and regional travelers who are staying home due to COVID-19 and financial concerns. But the hundreds of other requests for campsites are filling those slots quickly.
At least one local private campground, Lightning Pine RV Park near Methow, is not operational yet, but that is due to new ownership, not to COVID-19 restrictions. Said new owner John Kalina, “I just bought Lightning Pine RV Park and there is a lot of work to be done. I hope to be operational by late 2020 or in 2021. It’s such a beautiful piece of property; I want to offer a small-scale opportunity for people to come enjoy the heck out of it.”
While Rendezvous Huts owner Ben Nelson said that most of his users are based locally, Riverbend’s visitors are largely from out of town. “Some are here to fish, most are here to enjoy sitting and watching the river,” said Voigt. “A few are on their way home. They’ve been stuck in other states and all of their reservations in between here and there had been canceled due to shutdown orders and now the routes are opening back up.”
For many private campground owners, interacting with guests is one of the joys of the job. Interaction is still integral to the work, but under social distancing guidelines, what might have been friendly chats between the campground owner and guests are now customer service transactions: registration and information.
Still, said Voigt, “I don’t want it to seem cold and impersonal. I’ll run down in the golf cart and say hello talk a bit and explain anything or answer questions. Most want to know how it’s going and how things have been. People like personal interaction, especially the regulars. I just make it a point to do it outside and from a distance now.”
The Brookshires, too, are focused on balancing COVID-19 concerns with friendly service and campground access. “We are just working through one thing at a time,” the Brookshires said. “Doing our best to adapt like everyone else and welcome folks back to the valley while trying to be smart about it.”
Jessica Johnson, owner of Big Twin Campground on Twin Lakes Road, said that although it’s “definitely not business as usual,” Big Twin campers have been “very open and respectful” about the changes in campground operations: reducing the number of full hookup sites, redesigning the tent camping to create more distance between parties, closing the showers and play structure, offering pre-registration so that campers don’t have to check-in at the office, and limiting access to bathrooms.
“I think everyone is just grateful to be out enjoying some fresh air,” said Johnson.