Holiday on a budget: Lake Tahoe campgrounds fill up |

Holiday on a budget: Lake Tahoe campgrounds fill up

Jim Grant / Sun News ServiceJacob Middleton, left, and Anthony Dughi set up a tent at Camp Richardson campground on Friday afternoon.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE “-Despite a summer season that is expected to see a lower number of regional travelers, who will be spending less than last year, one segment of the South Shore lodging equation ” campgrounds ” isn’t anticipating a drop in numbers because of the dreary economy.

“We’re definitely not down,” said City Park Supervisor Susan Kezich, noting that Campground by the Lake was expected to sell out for the Memorial Day weekend by Friday night. Several campground guests have indicated they are not traveling as far from home as last year, Kezich added.

The U.S. Forest Service’s South Shore campgrounds were also expected to be full by Friday night, and the summer outlook is tracking similar to past years, U.S. Forest Service Spokes-man Rex Norman said in an e-mail.

The average local reservation numbers arising out of a struggling tourism economy appear to be a facet of national trends showing vacationers will rein in budgets and stay closer to home this summer.

From April to September, Americans are expected to take 20 million fewer trips compared with last year and spend $43 billion less on everything from gasoline to plane tickets to hotel rooms, according to a forecast by travel researcher Ken McGill in February.

The American Automobile Association expects just over 4 million Californians will travel 50 miles or more over the holiday weekend. The expected number of travelers is down 2.3 percent compared to last year, according to a statement from AAA Northern California spokesman Cynthia Harris.

“Lower gas prices and the prevalence of vacation bargains have helped Memorial Day travel rebound on a national level,” Harris said. “Here in California, the slowing regional economy and a greater dependence on air travel seem to be contributing to the slight decline in overall travelers.”

Sacramento resident Bill Martinez said his family cut their Lake Tahoe vacation plans from four days to three because of financial concerns and opted to stay at Campground by the Lake after checking hotel prices.

“Since the hotels were a little expensive, we decided to camp,” Martinez said while setting up camp on Friday afternoon.

Although the cost of vacationing may have shortened the Martinez family’s stay at the South Shore, California State Parks has noted a steady increase in Memorial Day Weekend campers statewide in the past three years because people are lengthening stays.

The number of days reserved at state park campgrounds over the Memorial Day Weekend increased from 19,701 to 25,036 between 2007 and 2009, according to a statement from state parks.

The statement indicates an exact cause for the increase isn’t known, but hints at the sagging economy as a factor.

“Do we have a wild guess about why it’s happening? Yes. Our logic is that people may be forgoing the big and costly vacations and choosing something less expensive and closer to home,” according to the statement.

“Again, there is no proof of that, just our gut feeling based on recent news reports on the economy, layoffs, hard times and vacation trends from around the nation,” the statement said.

The effects of fewer travelers spending less this summer on the South Shore’s economy remains to be seen, but one local official noted having people visit Lake Tahoe on tight budgets isn’t a worst-case scenario.

“I’m hoping that we may see people have a different type of vacation experience,” said City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell. “I’d rather have them come and camp than not come at all.”

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