This year, the campgrounds at Lucius Woods, Gordon Dam and Mooney Dam generated about $93,000 in revenue for the county, said Jon Harris, director of forestry and natural resources. That’s after a 37% percent increase in 2019 and another 62% increase in 2020, he said.
Among the changes being considered are extending the camping season, allowing advance reservations and expanding the Mooney Dam Campground.
Traditionally, campgrounds in Douglas County have opened two Fridays before Memorial Day and closed the Monday after Labor Day.
In 2020, the fall season was extended two weeks, and this year the season was extended three weeks.
“It worked well,” Harris said.
However, both years, the forestry department had to seek permission from the forest, parks and recreation committee to extend the season.
“Now we’re asking for a more permanent policy,” Harris said. “The permanent policy depends on weather and also staffing.”
Under the proposed change, campgrounds could open for the season as early as May 1 and close as late as Oct. 31 for regular season camping.
“That’s not going to be guaranteed every year,” Harris said. “It’s completely dependent on weather and staffing.”
Douglas County campsites have always been available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“You can’t reserve a site ahead of time,” Harris said. “For folks coming from out of the area … imagine you travel three hours. You don’t want to get there, and you can’t get sites.”
Harris said most campgrounds offer the ability to reserve sites, and with software available, people will be able to reserve campsites starting next season. If a site isn’t reserved, people could still get the site on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.
Harris said reservations could be made up to six months in advance.
A $5 nonrefundable fee would be charged for reservations. Check-in would be at 2 p.m. the first day, and check-out is at noon on the last day.
Reservations can be canceled by calling the forestry office. If reservations are canceled more than 24 hours before check-in, refunds will be issued, but the county would keep the $5 reservation fee. People who cancel within 24 hours of their first night stay will forfeit the cost for the first night of camping and the reservation fee.
Reservations are forfeited if the site is not occupied by check-in on the second day of the reservation.
“I think it will increase our usage,” Harris said.
Reservations will be accepted only for the traditional camping season.
County forestry fees
Only two fees are proposed to change under the new policy: those paid to camp off-season at Gordon Dam Campground and rental fees for the Bird Sanctuary and clubhouse.
The department has proposed increasing the fee from $75 to $100 to rent the Bird Sanctuary and clubhouse for a day, and off-season campers would pay the same rate per day as seasonal campers.
Harris said the department is also asking to keep the electrical service on for off-season campers, but water service and the sanitary dump at Lucius Woods would only be available when the weather allows it.
Seasonal camping fees would remain the same.
Making room for campers
Douglas County’s smallest campground could grow under a proposal to expand the campground at Mooney Dam.
The expansion could add up to 20 acres for camping near the current 3.3-acre campground located on Lower Eau Claire Lake.
Officials haven’t decided how many sites there would be, Harris said. They would have to hire a consultant to go through the design process.
Funding the project may not rely entirely on local dollars, he added. There is stewardship grant funding available that would help pay for half of the campground development, Harris said.
Other funding opportunities could be included if the county makes the campground accessible to all-terrain vehicle trails in the area, said Clint Meyer, resource and recreation manager.
“My concern is that we would have to develop permanent trails within the park,” said Supervisor Nick Baker. He said he wouldn’t want trail users to tear up the campgrounds.
Meyer said he’s talked to other counties and that hasn’t been an issue.
“They’re camping there, too,” Meyer said.
The Douglas County Board will consider the policy changes at its Jan. 20 meeting. County officials plan to bring the expansion of the Mooney Dam campground before the board at a later date after more planning and designs have been completed.