published Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Heat cramps camping

Ranger Nate Warner chatts with camper Carolyn Underwood at Chester Frost Park. 
Staff Photo by Ron Bush
Ranger Nate Warner chatts with camper Carolyn Underwood at Chester Frost Park. Staff Photo by Ron Bush

Normally by the Wednesday before Labor Day, Chester Frost Park already has campers setting up in the 22-site overflow area. This week that wasn't the case, although the rangers expect full capacity for the weekend.

"We have about 40 of our 200-plus RV sites still open," Lt. Noel McDaniel said Wednesday afternoon. "But we'll be full. And our tent people wait till Friday anyway."

This summer's heat has had a noticeable effect on camping at Chester Frost and other area parks, particularly the last two and a half months, McDaniel said.

"Memorial Day weekend, it was a zoo, and the Fourth of July was real busy," said Hamilton County chief ranger Fred Fuson, noting that some people pay for several nights before weekend arrivals just to get spots. "But it's been so hot most of the summer, all you can do is sit in the air conditioning in your trailer during big parts of the day.

"But a lot of people still come. We've really done better than I would've thought."

The beach area at the county park has been very popular, Fuson and McDaniel said. There is no charge, and it is open to area residents as well as to campers.

Harrison Bay State Park camping was "down a little bit" between Memorial Day and the Fourth and more so since then, said park manager Don Campbell, blaming the heat.

Still, he expects a full weekend for the traditional final fling of summer.

"We're about three-quarters full," Campbell said Wednesday. "A bunch came in last night. We usually fill up Thursday night."

Neither Harrison Bay nor Chester Frost takes reservations. Prices at the state park range from $11 per night for tent sites without water and electricity to $25 for recreational vehicle spots on the water. Prices are pretty comparable at the county park, beginning at $10.25 for disabled or 65-and-older county residents in tent sites. Waterfront RV sites cost $20 for county residents, $25 for others.

Steve and Carolyn Underwood began camping after he retired six years ago from the Hamilton County school system, and they are in the third week of their third 28-day stay at Chester Frost this year. That's the maximum for one visit, and waterfront campers must move inland or out after two weeks.

"That's just a way to be fair to everybody who wants to camp here," ranger Nate Warner said.

"This is the only place we camp, even though we live just seven miles away," said Carolyn Underwood, vowing to return in the fall. "We have several friends who camp several places, though, and they say they'd just as soon be here. You can't beat it."

The relax factor is the main reason for camping, the Underwoods said, "and this park is extremely clean and safe," Carolyn added. "And we have undoubtedly met some of the nicest people while we're here."

Cloudland Canyon State Park near Trenton, Ga., does take reservations and is fully booked for this weekend. It has 73 sites with electricity, 30 walk-in tent sites and 11 backcountry sites as well as 16 cottages, and all are reserved.

Cloudland camping also has been hurt by the heat, despite its Lookout Mountain location.

"We think the weather has hurt us. It's been mediocre," said park staffer Andrew Lowe. "We have not been as full as in years past. It was pretty typical at first -- during the holidays it will peak and then go down -- but it kind of dipped after the Fourth of July and never really came back up."

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