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Gas prices might affect outdoor activities

June 6, 2008
Although it might be too early in the summer to determine for certain whether or not the price of gasoline will have a negative effect on outdoor recreation in North Dakota, most state residents would agree that the recent surge in the price of gasoline will change the summer habits of many outdoor enthusiasts.

Particularly hard hit are those people who budget just enough extra income to head to their favorite lake or campground several times each summer. With the cost at the pump more than a dollar a gallon higher than at this time a year ago, it might mean fewer outings for many North Dakotans.

Boating and camping appears to have gotten off to a slower start than normal, but the weather has also been less than ideal at the start of the recreation season. Reservations at state parks were high for the Memorial Day weekend but at least two popular destinations on Lake Sakakawea, Fort Stevenson State Park and Lake Sakakawea State Park, were all but vacant at mid-week. It might be a sign that people are picking their vacation days much more carefully than in the past, perhaps choosing to fill their tanks and head to the lake only under the most favorable of conditions.

“It’s changed how much I’ll go, but it’s not going to stop me,” said Terry Piper of Minot, an avid fisherman who keeps an eye on the price at the pump. “I didn’t go last weekend and it was beautiful. But I’m going to Minnesota soon and decided to save my money for that trip.”

Piper’s comments might ring true for many other North Dakota fishermen as well. If the fish are biting and the weather is cooperating, lakes all across the state will see increased activity. How often anglers will go is another matter.

“We had a little concern with high gas prices and dry conditions in part of the state and you just don’t know if people are going to travel,” said Paul Schadewald, North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “People are still buying fishing licenses but they may not travel as much. Right now our license sales are about the same as last year.”

More than 170,000 fishing licenses were sold in North Dakota in 2007.

In neighboring Minnesota, early season fishing license sales for 2008 were down nearly 100,000. However, Minnesota was experiencing cool, wet weather at the start of its fishing season and a change in the licensing year may be partially responsible for the decrease in license sales.

“I know our fishing opener was down from last year,” said Scott Pengelly, information officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It looks to me like fewer anglers and boaters so far, but that’s just speculation at this point until better data comes in.”

Options for budget-minded anglers include fishing at lakes closer to home, cutting back on a few fishing trips to save money or dropping plans for vacations elsewhere in favor of staying closer to home.

“The high gas prices can be a benefit to local people,” said Melissa Rud from Garrison Bay Express in Garrison. “We can turn a negative into a positive. For those that want to travel closer to home, we are one of the best choices here because of Fort Stevenson, Indian Hills and Four Bears. People still need to relax and have family time. There’s a happy medium there.”

Pengelly agreed with Rud.

“Gasoline prices could have a positive effect. Some here in Minnesota are thinking more people will stay at home rather than go to the Black Hills or Yellowstone,” said Pengelly.

At Scenic Sports in Williston, where they sell both gasoline and fishing equipment, Scott Egge says increased gasoline prices probably haven’t really affected those who want to fish.

“I don’t think gas prices is really hindering them. Our bait sales are good,” said Egge. “Most guys, at least the die-hards, still fish every weekend. It’s the camping trips that are probably getting hurt in the deal.”

Motorhomes and tow vehicles, where 8 to 14 miles per gallon is the norm, are certainly not made for the economy minded. Neither are outboard motors or the always popular personal watercraft. Every boat and motor combination varies in regard to miles per gallon on the water, but five miles per gallon is considered a good average. Boaters who back off the throttle and limit the length of their runs on the lake will use considerably less gasoline than those who choose to run at top speed and travel long distances.

Doug Prchal, State Parks director, stated earlier that he expected a busy season for state parks. Part of Prchal’s reasoning was that park visitors would likely continue a pattern that developed last summer of making fewer trips overall but of longer duration.

Article Photos

Kim Fundingsland/MDN

Summer recreation hours are important to North Dakota residents, as is shown in this July 2007 photo taken on Lake Sakakawea. Increased gasoline prices this summer might have many altering their outdoor plans.



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