The summer of 2020 may be a record year for visitors to Benewah County and the St. Joe River region.
According to Idaho Parks and Recreation data, usage of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene is at a record high. And Heyburn State Park Manager Ron Hise said regular camping days are nearly as busy as Fourth of July weekend.
“I’m looking at the traffic counter data here and we’re at 1,745 more vehicles in July than 2019,” Mr. Hise said. Last weekend (Aug. 23) every parking lot was full. We were running out of places to put people it was just that busy,” Mr. Hise said. “It would be usual for the Fourth of July. But we are probably 1,500 to 2,000 more vehicles than usual.”
A high percentage of visitors have travelled from out of state. According to Mr. Hise visitors have come from all over and as far as Texas.
“We’re looking at probably 50 percent out of state,” Mr. Hise said.
Data on exactly how many campers the park has seen was unavailable.
“I don’t have camping figures but our campgrounds are full week-round now,” Mr. Hise said.
The Trail of the Coeur d’Alene is also seeing record usage.
“Cycling the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene is still a big draw. It slows down when it hits 100 degrees,” Mr. Hise said.
Idaho Parks and Recreation tracks usage via trail counters placed on segments of the Trail of Coeur d’Alene.
Based on data collected from trail counters between 2004 and 2020, in August the trail sees approximately 12,000 users. This August the trail has seen at least 18,879 users making it the busiest August on record.
The actual number of monthly users is likely even higher. Trail data is incomplete according to Idaho Parks and Recreation Parks Manager Kathleen Durfee.
“…these numbers only reflect those trail users that pass by a trail counter. Several popular sections of trail do not have trail counters. Numbers also do not reflect trail users at Heyburn State Park or on the Tribe section between Harrison and Plummer,” Ms. Durfee said.
The busiest month recorded was July 2008 with a total of 25,055 recorded visits. However, 2020 has already outnumbered 2008 in total visits. Trail counters recorded 82,226 total visits in 2008. As of this August, trail counters recorded 101,088 users.
Usage of other parks is up as well. According to Mr. Hise, McCroskey State Park, which he also manages, has seen an unusual number of visitors for the time of year.
“We’re over 50 percent at McCroskey State Park which is unusual. It’s so hot dry and dusty people usually want to be near water,” Mr. Hise said.
According to Mr. Hise the increased usage has occurred in conjunction with a staff shortage.
“We have half the staff we usually have,” Mr. Hise said.
Mr. Hise said that despite the increase in usage and the shortage of staff incidents at the park have remained low.
“Considering the increase in use the number of negative issues has not increased that much. Probably 95 percent of people coming here don’t cause any problems,” Mr. Hise said.
The lack of staffing could lead to early closures according to Mr. Hise. He said Hawley’s Landing is typically open until October however that may not be possible this year.
The Lake Chatcolet camping area is anticipated to close early this year for renovations.