High gas prices pumping up northeastern campgroundsby Bob Kelleher, Minnesota Public Radio
High gas prices might be a good thing for campgrounds in Northeast Minnesota. Some proprietors report a surge of customers coming from within the state -- people who might have traveled elsewhere if gas prices weren't so high. One north shore camp operator said he's seeing the best business there ever.
Along the Gunflint Trail, Minn. — Heston's Resort, just off the upper reaches of the Gunflint Trail, is having a good summer. That's a good six hours out of Minneapolis. But resort owner Greg Gecas said that's just one day's drive.
"Our summer's looking really good. The bookings are way up over the last several years," Gecas said. "With high gas prices, perhaps people are coming up the Gunflint Trail, rather than going to the Rockies."
And that's despite last year's Ham Lake forest fire that burned away the forest on the far side of Gunflint Lake.
You get mixed results if you ask about recreational vehicles. Bruce Kerfoot, at Gunflint Resort, said he's not seeing many of the big RVs in the woods near the end of the 57-mile long Gunflint Trail.
"We know they're just putting less miles on period, no matter where they go when they're down to this five, six, seven miles to the gallon when they're towing their rigs," Kerfoot said. "And our campgrounds are taking a beating on it. We know the campers in the big rigs are just not coming out as much this summer, and I think they're just hunkering down a little bit more."
But those homes on wheels are out there, they're just not going as far. Lamb's Resort, on Lake Superior's North Shore, is maybe five hours from the Twin Cities. Campground operator Paul James said he's having his best year ever, with business up a good 10 percent to 15 percent.
"I've had people call me on the phone and say, 'We were going to go down south to Florida with the big campers but gas prices are keeping us at home,'" James said.
James said there's little doubt that gas prices are helping his business.
"Gas is always the topic of conversation at the front desk when people come in," James said. "So, the gas prices are on people's minds. My feeling is people are going to take a vacation and camping is something they can do with the family, and it's relatively inexpensive."
Camping in the Boundary Waters has been good this summer for Sawbill Outfitters on the Sawbill Trail.
"It's been kind of an incredible summer for us," said Bill Hansen, who runs the business. "I don't think there's any doubt that the high gas prices have helped our business."
Boundary Waters canoe outfitting he said, has been strong all season, despite cold wet weather in May and June.
"I don't know how many people have said to me this year, 'We own our own canoes, but we're renting them because we are able to drive the Toyota or Prius up and save gas and then rent canoes rather than haul our own,'" Hansen said.
Hansen also manages three area campgrounds, and he said business there has just spiked.
"In the last two weeks there's been a little phenomenon of the campgrounds getting busy," Hansen said. "In fact, our campground here at Sawbill was booked last Thursday, for the first time I've ever seen it booked on a Thursday in my life. And I've been here 50 years."
Hansen said there again, gas prices might be the reason.
"I think what's happening there is that gas prices have moderated a little bit, and schools are about to start and people are saying, 'Let's get the heck out of town,'" Hansen said.
The weather hasn't hurt either. Hansen said the temperature there has only been above 80 degrees twice this summer; while it's been plenty warm in the Twin Cities.
- Morning Edition, 08/13/2008, 7:24 a.m.