The prospects for camping in the Lewis & Clark Lake area didn’t look the brightest at the beginning of the season.
The park was coming off a winter storm that had left many parts of the recreation area damaged, forecasts were calling for cooler and wetter than normal conditions and — for the most part — those forecasts were coming true.
But as the summer came, the weather turned warmer and camping numbers came to largely mimick trends of the last few years.
On the year through the end of August, many of the district’s campgrounds saw modest growth over the same period in 2018:
• Lewis & Clark Recreation Area —35,298 camping units (2019) versus 35,131 camping units (2018).
• Chief White Crane — Up 1% with 9,858 camping units (2019).
• Pierson Ranch — Down 3% with 3,851 camping units (2019).
• Whole district — 50,119 camping units (2019) versus 50,077 camping units (2018).
A camping unit consists of one night’s stay in a camper, cabin or tent on the property.
Shane Bertsch, district park supervisor for the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area, told the Press & Dakotan that challenges had to be overcome.
“This year, we started off a little bit slow,” he said. “We definitely had some challenges with the cool and rainy weather. Once we got into mid-June, things really picked up. People were ready to get outside. We’ve had a great rest of the summer.”
With the 2019 numbers hovering close to last year’s, Bertsch said that the year was largely on par with the last few.
“I’d say 2018 was comparable to the last couple of years,” he said. “We’re full every weekend. Where we have room for growth is definitely during the week, and towards the end here, it seemed like we had more weekday campers and that helped our numbers a little bit.
He said that, while repairs on flood damage were quickly expedited in the park, there were still some lingering effects of the late-winter storm in the lake area.
“We had increased flows coming into the lake, which created some challenges — the water wasn’t as clear and we had some vegetative growth increase in the water that impacted the boating and the beach traffic a little bit,” he said. “And it looks like we’re going to continue with these higher releases for the foreseeable future.”
As time progresses further into the shoulder season, Bertsch said he’s confident the remaining season will remain robust just like the summer.
“September’s going to be a good month for camping,” he said. “Our signature event is Fall in the Park Sept. 21, and we’ve got a lot of activities planned for that. … These few weekends here in September, we’ll have good numbers. We don’t fill up, but we have pretty good numbers and keep the welcome center open and rent out a lot of cabins. It’s going to be a pretty busy month into the first part of October.”
Fall in the Park will be held Sept. 21 from 1-5 p.m. at the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area.
Bertsch said he’s pleased with how the season overcame the early roadblocks.
“I’m pretty happy that we caught and slightly surpassed last year’s numbers to this point because of the slow start and the challenges with the water and weather,” he said.
As 2019 winds down, Bertsch said park officials are starting to look at the future and ways to make the 2020 season and beyond even better.
“We’re also going to be putting in a new comfort station in the Yankton section,” he said. “That will be completed in the spring and be ready for the camping season.”
Additionally, there will be improvement projects on roads and bike trails in the park, updates to the marina boat ramp and new playground equipment at Chief White Crane and Pierson Ranch.
The projects are all anticipated to be completed by the start of the 2020 camping season.
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