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Reynolds opens up campgrounds, with restrictions

Reynolds opens up campgrounds, with restrictions
Campsites are mostly empty right now at R Campground in Charles City, but earlier this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation opening campgrounds in Iowa, effective Friday. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

Recreational campers who’ve been itching to spend some time away from the house and around the fire are in luck.

Earlier this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation opening campgrounds in Iowa, effective Friday.

Reynolds said campgrounds could open “provided that the campground implements reasonable measures to ensure social distancing, increased hygiene practices, and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 consistent with guidance issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health.”

Visitors are not be allowed in the campgrounds, campfires at the individual campsites will be limited to campers occupying that campsite, only six occupants are allowed per campsite and all modern restrooms and shower buildings, including water fountains, will remain closed.

“I was advised that you can go camping as long as you can use your own restroom facilities and showers in your camper,” said Randy Vandeventer, a retired Charles City police officer, who operates R Campground in southeast Charles City. “We’ll just leave our shower house closed until they lift all the restrictions on that.”

Vandeventer said his campground’s shower house is also the storm shelter, so if there is a severe storm he will contact guests and give them the code to the shower house locks in case they need to take shelter.

R Campground is among several privately-owned campgrounds in the area which will be open to recreational campers on Friday.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that Iowa will open state campgrounds at 8 a.m. on Friday to campers with self-contained restrooms only. Self-contained is defined as a tent or pop-up camper with a portable toilet or an RV with a functioning, self-contained bathroom.

Heidi Reams at Floyd County Conservation said the county will not open its campsites this weekend, but will stick with its original plan of opening on May 22. Reams said she was not expecting Gov. Reynolds to make an announcement until sometime next week, but called it a “great step.”

“The reopening procedures are being worked on, and those will be made available on our website and Facebook page as soon as those decisions have been made,” said Reams, who wasn’t sure what kind of crowd to expect when they do open. “It’s hard to tell, it’s very weather dependent.”

In early April, Reynolds issued a proclamation which closed public and private campgrounds for temporary recreational use, including state-owned cabins and yurts on those properties. The proclamation stated that long-term or permanent residents were not included in the prohibition.

Campgrounds remained open for non-recreational purposes, which included those seeking to self-isolate due to COVID-19, such as health care workers.

“All I really have right now is workers and full-time people who live in their campers all the time,” Vandeventer said of R Campground. “We were never restricted from keeping those people out.”

Vandeventer said he’s been taking reservations with the idea that the shower house would remain closed, and said he’d “wait and see” if more restrictions get lifted by Memorial Day.

“In our situation, we really haven’t been bothered by this much yet,” Vandeventer said. “Really, recreational camping doesn’t start for us until about Memorial Day anyway, so it’s rare that we have a lot of campers this time of year.”

The Chickasaw County Conservation Board announced in a press release Thursday that it will open Airport Lake Park and Split Rock Park campgrounds on Friday at 6 a.m.

Board Director Brian Moore said only campers with self-contained units will be permitted and all pit latrines, modern restrooms, shower houses, and playgrounds will remain closed.

At the state-run campgrounds, communal picnic tables and grills will be open for use. Playgrounds, day-use rental lodges, shelter houses, cabins, yurts, visitor centers, nature centers and museums within state parks will remain closed. Beaches will remain open, but will be monitored closely.

“While state parks have seen a great influx of visitors at our parks, it is expected to see the same at the campgrounds,” the Iowa DNR stated in a press release.

“Parks staff will be closely monitoring these areas to avoid gatherings of groups larger than 10. Staff presence throughout the parks and campgrounds will remind and educate visitors to continue physical distancing while enjoying some of Iowa’s most beautiful public places.”

Reams said that although camping won’t yet be available at Floyd County facilities, there is still plenty to do at the county parks.

“Our parks and wildlife areas are all open now, so people can get outside and enjoy them,” she said. “The picnic shelters, restrooms and our visitor center at the Fossil Prairie Center are closed, but people can hike, explore and go fossil hunting.”