Despite picture perfect weather, there were more than a few unhappy campers at Hood, Charbonneau and Fishhook parks' campgrounds over the Labor Day weekend.
A decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to do an early seasonal closure at many of its recreation facilities in the Walla Walla District has surprised and angered some campers.
Federal budget constraints forced the closure, which took effect at noon Tuesday at Fishhook's 41 RV-tent sites, Charbonneau's 37 sites and Hood's 46 sites.
"The spectrum of reaction has been from surprise to outright anger," said Jim Rohl on Tuesday morning while watching the last four campsites at Hood Park empty out.
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Rohl and his wife, Gloria, spent the summer as contract employees for the Corps, monitoring campground use, collecting fees and serving as campground hosts at Hood Park near Burbank.
"We've had plenty of comment cards," he said, adding that a few of the comments were not suitable for publication.
"Overall, we've had to shorten selected Walla Walla District recreation areas' seasons this year by up to 12 weeks due to budget limitations," said Bruce Henrickson, the Corps' spokesman in Walla Walla.
The boat ramps and day-use areas remain open at the Hood and Charbonneau parks, but the campgrounds at those facilities and all facilities at Fishhook, Levey and Windust parks are closed and will remain closed until next spring.
Henrickson said the Corps decided last year on the cutbacks. Prior to 2011, all facilities and campgrounds opened May 1, but this year that was pushed back to May 18 at Hood and Charbonneau parks and May 20 for Fishhook Park.
All facilities at Levey and Windust parks, except the boat ramps, were closed all last year and this year, Henrickson said.
Jake Blaylock of Spokane was one of the last campers to leave Hood Park on Tuesday.
"We have such a short season anyway, closing it early is unfortunate," said Blaylock, who spent the night camping with his young son, who played in the shallows of the Snake River.
Blaylock said a lot of people look forward to camping in the post Labor Day season when campgrounds are less crowded and temperatures more agreeable.
"This is prime time for people who don't have kids and want to get out and see nature," said Blaylock.
"This is my first time to the park here. It's a great spot," he added.
Henrickson said the Corps uses site visitation numbers to develop budgets for each campground.
"The numbers also help us make difficult decisions about shortening seasons or closing recreation areas," he said, adding that decisions are not made lightly.
Rohl said his summer at Hood Park saw high use of the campground, boating and picnicking areas.
"Generally, it is 98 percent occupancy Friday through Sunday all year, and about 40 percent during the rest of the weekdays in the summer," he said.
Campers pay a premium $24 a night for sites along the river on weekends, and $11 per night at other sites. The weekday rates are slightly less at $12 and $11.
"My wife and I love this place. We've been to many parks in the past 14 years (as campground hosts)," Rohl said.
Terry Supplee of Kennewick was packing up his gear and RV on Tuesday after spending a night at Hood Park with his two sons and a grandson.
"I was surprised when I heard this was the last day, but the guy from British Columbia who was camped next to me was real unhappy about it. He was ticked," Supplee said.
Henrickson said Charbonneau also is very popular for its marina and boat launch facilities.
That is one reason why the Corps is keeping the boating areas accessible, Henrickson said.
"Our primary mission is access to water," he said.
Henrickson said more information about the Corps' specific recreation areas and closures is available at www.nww.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation.aspx.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org