Word is out, camping is the go-to vacation for 2020. Camping and boating are natural getaways for those who want to get out of town while also maintaining at least a physical distance from others while socializing. But, with popular campgrounds less than an hour away from Barton County, it shouldn’t be surprising to see some familiar faces during your nearby “stay-cation.”
Cori Miller is on the board of the Wilson Lake Area Association. The volunteer-led group has been around practically since the U.S. Corps of Engineers began work on Lake Wilson in neighboring Russell County more than 40 years ago.
The group raises funds and assists with Corps and state campground improvement projects, funds the annual Lake Guide, and in recent years began organizing the annual July 4 fireworks display at the lake (set this year for July 4) and annual poker run (postponed this year until Labor Day weekend). As with all group events this year, these tentative plans will depend on how the phased reopening of the economy progresses, Miller said.
“This year, there has been an overabundance of campers, especially with Corps park closed,” she said. The Lucas campground she refers to is still set to open June 1.
During the state shutdown, state campgrounds remained open and were vital for socially distanced recreation, as well as for essential workers from out of the area to stay at. Now that warmer weather has arrived, use has picked up in recent weeks. Most RV and camper sites have been full on weekends since May, and primitive camping has expanded quite a bit, Miller said.
“Lots of people are camping in tents, and people with campers are even using the primitive sites,” she said.
But pressure on the campgrounds has been increasing in recent years because outdoor pursuits have been gaining in popularity, so it’s hard to say how much of the increase is due to pandemic concerns.
Miller and other association members routinely tour the campground, and have noted an uptick in the number of out-of-state license plates in the campgrounds. They’ve also seen social distancing being observed, with most campers keeping to their own spaces.
Only one of the regular campground hosts did not return for the summer, and that was for health-related concerns, Miller said. Most seasonal help, including campground hosts, cabin cleaners and restroom attendants, are back.
Visitors will find the Wilson Marina Store and Knotheads Bait Shop are open with camping, fishing and boating needs, cookout items and gas for the road as well as at the dock for boats. For the past couple of months, curbside service only was available, but with the recent lifting of some restrictions, doors are open for customers on a limited basis.
A recent Knotheads Facebook post stated a limit of 10 people would be allowed in the store at a time, with 6-foot social distancing required. They request a two-person maximum per car. Parking lot service will still be available as well (call 785-658-2166). Hours for Memorial Day weekend are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Memorial Day.
While the staff will be sanitizing high-touch areas throughout the day, they ask customers to not handle items they don’t intend to buy, and advise that public restrooms will not be available.
“Masks are welcome,” the store owner posted. “Please help us make this a healthy transition. If you don’t feel well please stay home. Last year we could see the water rise and knew what we were up against. This year it’s unseen. God Bless Us and have a great day.”
According to staff at the state campground office at Lake Wilson, there are no campsites available for the weekend, but a day trip is still doable. Swimming is permitted; however, swim beaches remain closed in accordance with Phase 2 of Governor Laura Kelly’s reopening plan. The ever-popular 22 mi. Switchgrass mountain biking trail also awaits.
This spring, the lake level is down from last year’s highs, and all boat ramps are available.
At Kanopolis State Park in Ellsworth County, as of Thursday morning, there were still several primitive campsites available for tent camping. Campers are allowed, but with predicted rains, care should be taken in choosing a spot. Generators are allowed between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. Swimming is allowed, but as with Wilson, swim beaches are closed. The south boat ramp is available, and there are many boats on the water. However, there is no courtesy dock and no marina store available. Visitors are advised to bring their own gasoline and snacks. The closest grocery store is at Marquette.