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Recreation trends driven by low water, empty wallets

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Recreation trends driven by low water, empty wallets

Postby ERIC » Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:39 pm

Recreation trends driven by low water, empty wallets

Tom Stienstra, SF Chronicle Outdoors Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2009 ... 15FEEJ.DTL

Do you own a pair of hiking boots? A bike? A sleeping bag?

What about a boat or RV?

Your likely answers to these questions show how the public has transformed the outdoor experience in the Bay Area and Northern California into a new era.

Hiking, biking and camping are huge right now. The past two weekends, with clear skies and warm afternoons, parking areas at trailheads at Bay Area parks were packed, and campsite reservations for the coming year in California are the highest ever recorded for January.

Yet in the past year there have been scant few boats out anywhere and even fewer RVs on the road. The summer's prospects, tied to water levels at lakes and cash in pocket, are bleak.

Of the five major outdoors activities, here's how prospects shape up for the coming year:

1. Camping: No cash? Camping is the answer: Low-cost getaways to destinations with world-class beauty. The state has roughly 800 major campgrounds at parks, lakes, rivers and wilderness trailheads. Except for coastal sites in Monterey Bay and San Diego, the price for overnight trips is still the best deal around. The marquee names - Yosemite, Tahoe, Monterey - will fill daily all summer. "We don't have more spaces, but we have more reservations, earlier, than ever before," said deputy director Roy Stearns of the State Department of Parks and Recreation. Best opportunities: Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood Empire, Tahoe's Emerald Bay boat-in.

2. Hiking: For the price of boots and socks, your legs can take you through a gateway to some of the prettiest places imaginable. Hiking is also a portal to health, and when the endorphins kick in, euphoria. There is no better place to spend the winter than in the Bay Area: 150 parks with roughly 7,500 miles of trails that lead to mountain tops and foothill ridges with spectacular views, 20 waterfalls and 10 major redwood forests. Best opportunities: Point Reyes, Big Basin Redwoods, East Bay Regional Parks.

3. Biking: The advantage of a mountain bike, to cover 10 to 15 miles of backcountry with the equivalent effort of hiking about 5 miles, provides fast access to miles of unbelievable wild terrain in the Bay Area's biggest parks. With low rainfall this winter, trail conditions haven't been mucked up like most years. Best opportunities: Wilder Ranch State Park, East Bay Parks, Marin Watershed, Henry W. Coe State Park.

4. Wildlife watching: Wildlife watching is one of the rare experiences that can be shared equally by all, regardless of age or background. Sighting a bear or elk, sea otter or whale, bald eagle or osprey captures the thrill of the outdoors. These two reasons will keep destinations with wildlife tops not only in California, but across America. Best opportunities: Pierce Ranch (Point Reyes), Sequoia National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods, Elkhorn Slough, Farallon Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Grizzly Island.

5. Backpacking: Treks in California's 137 wilderness areas are inexpensive, ambitious and world-class. A bonus in the past two years is that a light snowpack in the Sierra Nevada has provided earlier and longer access to the high country - from late May through mid-November. One oddity: Wilderness treks are beloved, not by youth, many of whom don't like the effort, but by older Boomers who yearn for self-reliance, pristine surroundings with absolute quiet, and the accompanying sense of freedom. In the Bay Area, the backpack camps at Point Reyes and Big Basin are now among the most popular campsites in California.

Read Tom Stienstra's weekly outdoors notes online at

On the decline

Boating: Low lake levels, coastal fishing closures, high cost of new boats, storage restrictions in many Bay Area cities and maintenance costs have devastated boat owners (or those who might want one). Best opportunity: Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Fishing: Salmon season shut down, striped bass in tailspin and trout stocks cut in half. Best opportunity: Foothill reservoirs with largemouth bass.

Skiing and snowboarding: Lack of snow and high lodging costs in most areas have industry down 30 to 35 percent. This could change literally in a week with a series of big storms to open up all terrain, followed by blue skies, clear roads and a round of discounts to inspire trips.

Hunting: A 10 percent success rate for deer, the high cost of duck blinds and better duck-hunting elsewhere has frustrated the passionate few, and hunters are looking out-of-state for a quality experience. At last weekend's Sportsmen's Expo in Sacramento, the absolutely packed Hunting Hall featured many outfitters from Montana and elsewhere.

Adventure travel: Hotel bookings and RV travel are down 30 percent across the board, more in some regions. The decline started last spring when gas prices spiked, then plummeted further when cash tightened.

E-mail Tom Stienstra at

This article appeared on page C - 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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