The Changing Face of Camping

This aerial photograph shows the Big Creek Campground near Glacier National Park the first week of October after it was officially closed. Each night every available parking space filled up with grateful campers.

While Covid-19 has hurt some businesses, others have thrived with unexpected bonuses. Reports indicate that sales and rentals of recreational vehicles such as camping trailers and motorhomes are up by 300 percent. That is incredible. A walk through a local sporting goods store yielded similar results. I was shocked to see bare shelves and asked an employee if they were going out of business. “No,” he replied. “We just can’t keep stuff on the shelves.”

Camping, it seems, has become the newest form of social distancing. And with restrictions on foreign travel, Americans are flocking to national parks and national forests in numbers no one would have believed just a year ago. This autumn we have been to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton (as has been our habit for the past 20 years) and even Glacier National Park expecting the crowds to be much diminished from the summer. Fall has always been the best time to visit these parks and have them nearly to yourself.

Not this year. By 0900, the line of cars waiting to get into Yellowstone at West Yellowstone can extend for blocks. We found the same thing last week at Glacier and parking at String Lake in Grand Teton was full before noon. The visitation to these parks in October looks more like July than autumn.

So, we have some good news: lots more Americans are getting introduced to the great outdoors and to the pleasures of camping. The more people get out and enjoy the outdoors, the better.

Selfishly, the bad news that always accompanies good news is exactly the same. As a fellow from Washington state told us at Bowman Lake in Glacier National Park, “This is our first time here. It is so gorgeous though, so it won’t be our last.”  Those introduced to the wonders of nature are now devoted users, upping the visitor level. People in unprecedented numbers are getting out and overwhelming available facilities, especially during Covid when many campgrounds and other facilities are closed. We run a real risk of loving some of our iconic and favorite places to death.

Land managers need to think differently in order for this not to turn into a major problem. In our travels this fall, we have noted that even campgrounds that were open during the summer closed on normal schedules, shortly after Labor Day. Visitation has hardly dipped a month later, but campers now have far fewer places to stay. Managers need to recognize that the world has changed and their policies need to change with that.

We experienced one such decision in Montana. Just outside Glacier’s Camas Creek entrance is a Forest Service campground named Big Creek. After finding that the only loop in the only open campground in Glacier had filled before 0900 that morning (like every morning according to the ranger), we were hoping to find something else.

When we pulled into Big Creek, we were confused by signs stating that the campground was closed for the season. Yet the gate to the group area was open and people were clearly camping there. Even the campground host site had a big X taped over it, indicating a camper could use it and the outhouses were open, but unstocked. We were thrilled that someone had made an executive decision to not enforce the closure while so many people were still camping.

With a lot more people enjoying camping, we are going to have to do some “out of the box” thinking in order to still be able to enjoy the reasons we go camping in the first place.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho