BITTERROOT VALLEY — The camping mantra has always been to leave a "clean camp" after you're heading home from an outing, and that's especially true as we hit the first big holiday weekend since the start of COVID-19.
It's been a rough spring for National Forest crews in Western Montana, as they've tried to adapt and prepare for the rush of people camping and enjoying the outdoors.
Things got off to an early start in the pandemic as steps had to be taken to eliminate busy, popular places like Lake Como from becoming hot spots because of crowds, and limited resources to sanitize facilities.
Even getting seasonal workers online was a challenge, but after lots of hard work, you can now camp for Memorial Day weekend.
"So the last couple of weeks I've got to hand it to our forest staff," said Bitterroot National Forest Spokesman Tod McKay. "They have been out working night and dry trying to get the campgrounds ready so we would be ready for this Memorial weekend, which of course is the big kickoff to the summer camping season. So because of them, some of our trail crew, some of our fire crews have also come out and assisted on those campgrounds."
That's not to say the coronavirus still isn't a concern.
In fact, McKay tell me Bitterroot National Forest is advising everyone camping to disinfect picnic tables and other common surfaces when you move into a site. And keep all guidelines in mind during your visit.
"Certainly, you know avoid at trailheads and in parking areas, at popular places like the Como Beach, which is certainly something that we will be watching closely," said McKay. "And then refrain from large groups. You know, still that more than 10-people and follow all of the local and state health guidelines, and obviously Ravalli County."
The majority of campgrounds will be open, except for places like Twin Lakes which still has snow.
While Lake Como is open, the boat launch won't be ready until a tentative date of Friday, May 29.