With the recent warm weather, the cancellation of many big events and an emphasis on staying close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears more people are turning to the outdoors for fun.
“We’ve seen a pretty fast and furious June,” said Chris Terwey, general manager of Northwest Outlet in Superior.
Terwey attributed it to pent-up demand from folks who missed spring camping during the state’s Safer At Home order, adults being off work with time on their hands and kids being out of school. Northwest Outlet has seen sales increase across the board, from camping and fishing gear down to sandal sales.
“Whether it be camping or hiking or picnicking, it seems to be a pretty universally safe activity,” Terwey said, and the weather has been cooperative.
Northwest Outlet typically sees a flurry of traffic from visitors in town for Grandma’s Marathon, Terwey said. Even though the race was canceled this year, sales have been good.
“It’s been a lot more local traffic than traveling traffic, I guess,” Terwey said.
Many Northwest Outlet customers have mentioned plans to spend more time out on the water or to try their hand at tent camping since friends can’t come up to visit.
Business has doubled at MAC Sport & Marine in Superior this summer, according to facility manager Ron Wilde. They’re seeing a spike in business service requests and sales with everything from trailers and pontoons to ATVs.
“We’re swamped,” Wilde said.
He said they’ve seen an increase in the number of out-of-town customers coming to their cabins for the summer, as well.
“We’ve heard that many, many times,” Terwey said.
North Shore SUP, which opened on Barkers Island in 2012, has seen business increase every year. Co-owner Heather Holmes said even in the midst of the pandemic, they’ve seen growth. The business offers stand up paddleboard rentals, classes, guided trips, yoga and children’s programming.
“Our kid programming is probably what grows and changes the most each year,” Holmes said. “It is a priority of ours to get local kids out and connected to their waterways in addition to teaching them basic open water safety and paddling skills.”
Local businesses are making changes to keep things safe during the pandemic, based on recommended health practices. At Brule River Canoe Rental, that means additional shuttle trips to keep paddlers socially distant during drives to and from the Brule River. According to employee Gabby Risley, the most popular trips have been Stone’s Bridge to Winneboujou Landing, a path that cuts past Cedar Island, Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House; and from Winneboujou to the town of Brule, a trip that involves five different rapids.
ATVs hit the road
ATV traffic is also on the rise in Douglas County.
“It seems that with the combo of people coming off lockdown and an early/warm summer, the trails and roads have been the busiest we've seen,” said Sgt. Jake Engelman, recreation officer with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
That spike in activity has been directly reflected in the increased number of crashes and safety violations being reported, he said. Most crashes have involved inexperienced operators, careless operation, alcohol or a combination of the three.
A Douglas County ordinance allowing ATVs and UTVs on county highways went into effect May 22. There has been no spike in incidents on county highways, Engelman said, despite the number of ATVs and UTVs traveling them. Speed, however, has been an issue. The ordinance restricts ATV and UTV speeds to 25 MPH on the highway.
“The trail associations and county departments — sheriff’s office, forestry, highway — have been trying to get the word out, but excessive speed has been the number one violation by far,” Engelman said. “That’s also the most common public complaint we get and it’s a common denominator for crashes.”
Another issue that’s come up is an increase in illegal ATV and UTV operation on state and federal highways. The ordinance only allows operation on lettered county highways. ATV and UTV operation is not authorized on numbered highways.