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Last-minute Labor Day holiday weekend campers still have options, but some are going fast

Ray Trudel of St. Marlo, Man., packs up after a camping trip to the East Grand Forks state park. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.1 / 2
Richard Vacura folds out the awning on his camper Friday in the Red River State Recreation Area in East Grand Forks. The Red River SRA is sponsoring a "I Can Camp" program Saturday for 10 first-time camper families. Herald photo by John Stennes.2 / 2

The unofficial end of summer is at hand with the approach of Labor Day weekend, but state parks on both sides of the Red River still have a few campsites for last minute campers.

They're mostly first-come, first-served.

"I think all of the electric sites are gone," said Gladwin Lynne, manager of the Red River State Recreation Area in East Grand Forks. "We've got a few that are first-come, first-served, but they're going to go fast."

There's still time, though, for newcomers to give camping a try this weekend as part of an "I Can Camp!" program the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is offering at the Red River site.

As part of the "I Can Camp!" program, which gets rolling at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Lynne said DNR staff will host first-time campers in the Red River group camp and will provide all of the equipment except sleeping bags.

The program can handle 10 families for the overnight camping lesson, Lynne said, and there's still room for more participants. There's a nominal entry fee, he said, but the deadline is today. To sign up, call (218) 773-4950.

Lynne said "I Can Camp!" includes hands-on instruction in setting up camp, campfire cooking, night hikes and geocaching. The DNR offered a similar program in East Grand Forks last year, Lynne said, and it was a hit among the campers.

The DNR launched the program at state parks across Minnesota as a way to get more people involved in camping and the outdoors.

"For someone who's never camped, it's a good experience, and they'll be taught about camping," Lynne said. "There's somebody with them all the time."

RV sites scarce

Steve Crandall, manager of Turtle River State Park west of Grand Forks, said all the park's campsites that can be reserved are gone, but more than 20 primitive, walk-in tent sites remained for campers who don't mind roughing it.

He said the park's first-come, first-served RV sites already were filling up Wednesday afternoon with campers setting up their equipment and purchasing sites through the weekend just to hold the spots.

"If that continues, we may not even have first-come, first-served (RV) sites" by today, Crandall said. "If they're looking to tent camp, I think we'll have some opportunities for them this weekend."

Elsewhere in northwest Minnesota, the DNR said Lake Bronson and Zippel Bay state parks still had at least 20 reservation sites available as of midweek, while other state parks such as Hayes Lake and Lake Bemidji had sites available for part of the weekend.

The DNR offers up to 30 percent of its state park campsites on a first-served basis, but recommends visitors call the park within 24 hours of arriving to find out how many campsites are expected to be open.

Other options

Even if camping's not on the agenda, there still are opportunities for visitors to enjoy state park programs this weekend. Turtle River State Park, for example, is offering a "Walking on the Wild Side" interpretive program at 8:30 tonight in the amphitheater and a wildflower program at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Visitor Center. Amphitheater programs also are on tap Saturday and Sunday nights.

In East Grand Forks, local group PeatMoss & The Spreaders will be performing, blues, country and bluegrass music at 7:30 p.m. Saturday near the playground area in the state recreation area. Admission is free, but a vehicle permit is required to enter the recreation area.

For the latest information on campsite availability in North Dakota and Minnesota, check out the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department website at and click the online services link; in Minnesota, go to

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

(701) 780-1148