High gas prices and forests ravaged by beetle kill have not deterred dedicated campers, as some park officials predicted.
Despite delayed openings, many campgrounds in Routt County are showing an increase in the number of visitors setting up camp this summer.
"It's higher than I expected," said Kesha Clay, who works in developed recreation for the U.S. Forest Service. " It's good that it's not slowing down that much."
With about 392,000 people visiting Steamboat Lake State Park between June 30, 2007, and June 30, 2008, the campgrounds have seen about 8 percent more campers over the previous year, said Julie Arington, park manager for Colorado State Parks.
The Gurule family of Denver has contributed to that number for the past 25 years, spending a week each summer camped out next to Steamboat Lake. They bring their three dogs, Stitch, Buddy and Dusty, and settle in to enjoy the slower pace of the mountains. The family camps once a year and said gas prices will not keep them from the traditional trip.
"We've been doing this forever, and we're gonna do it no matter what gas costs," Dianna Gurule said.
They did make one change to their travel plans because of the cost of gas - Gurule and her sister, Lisa, decided to carpool instead of driving separately as they usually do.
Arington isn't sure why numbers are up at Steamboat Lake State Park. She said it could possibly be because of nearby campgrounds including Granite, Hahn's Peak Lake, Hinman and half of Seedhouse campground being closed for removal of hazardous trees.
"A lot of campers are from the Front Range," Arington said, adding that the proximity of the mountains makes camping an affordable option for many people instead of buying expensive flights elsewhere.
Couples John and Joann Roberts and Vince and Dee Vinnola came from Grand Junction and Denver, respectively, and camped for the first time at Steamboat Lake State Park this week. They joined family members who had camped there before and recommended the area.
"We probably could've gotten a motel cheaper, but we gotta get some use out of these trailers," Vinnola said, pointing to his metal home for the past few days. He guessed that he averaged about 6 miles per gallon pulling the trailer behind him for the duration of the about 175-mile ride.
Pearl Lake State Park is the only campground that has seen fewer campers this year - about 21 percent fewer - and Arington said it could be because of dam work and the deteriorated forest condition.
"It used to be thick and lush, but it's brown and dying now," Arington said, commenting on the remains of trees struck by beetles. "It's just not as pretty anymore."
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