Campgrounds make ‘tough decisions’ navigating new territory this camping season

State considers campgrounds essential

BARABOO, Wis. – This time of year, many are gearing up for warm weather activities such as camping, but the pandemic is changing how that will look at the start of this season.

Although state parks including Devil’s Lake open Friday, public campgrounds will be closed until May 26, the day after Memorial Day.

The State has deemed campgrounds essential for lodging, so private campgrounds are allowed to open, as long as they comply with certain restrictions. Guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection include maintaining social distancing, increasing cleaning and prohibiting use of public buildings that would encourage social gatherings.

By now, many are familiar with cabin fever, as the term takes on a whole new meaning this spring.

“I even am, and my work day is outside,” said Lollie Wheeler, who owns Wheeler’s Campground near Devil’s Lake in Baraboo along with Marc Wheeler.

Wheeler is used to the change of seasons bringing back familiar faces. With the Safer at Home order, this year marks new territory.

“Normally our opening day has come and gone,” she said. “It’s a lot lonelier. You kind of gear up over the winter and you get excited about seeing people that you know that come back year after year.”

The unknowns during the pandemic make it hard to plan for the season, Wheeler said, like determining when to start taking reservations, how many campsites to rent when they do, whether to stock the store and if so, how much to order.

“Those are tough decisions to make … We’re just kind of wondering like everybody else how long this is going to go,” Wheeler said. “Memorial Day is the kickoff to summer, and for campgrounds in particular in the hospitality industry, that’s the first big weekend to welcome tourists to the state.”

According to websites of area campgrounds, some are open to the public, with modifications such as no tent camping and closing public restrooms.

For now, Wheeler said they’re holding off on deciding when to open to the general public, waiting for the Safer at Home order to end.

“We’ll definitely take a fiscal hit on that, but I think that’s well worth it if you preserve public safety,” she said.