View of lake from Ponderosa State Park

This file photo shows the view of a sunset over Payette Lake from Ponderosa State Park in McCall, a camping destination that’s especially popular with Treasure Valley residents.

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Idaho started doubling camping fees for out-of-staters at its five most popular state parks today, as required by a new law passed by the Legislature this year, but it will be at least a year before we see if it helps Idahoans get spots in the popular parks — because all five, including Ponderosa in McCall, booked up immediately for the whole summer as soon as reservations opened back in December.

“It’s kind of a scramble when the nine-month book-ahead window opens,” said state parks spokesman Craig Quintana. “It books up within the hour.”

Existing reservations are grandfathered in under the law, HB 93, and their fees won’t rise.

“The sad fact is, if we could magically snap our fingers and double our inventory, we would still sell out,” Quintana said. “We need more camping, pretty much across our system.”

State lawmakers this year did approve funding for a new 50-space campground at the Billingsley Creek unit of Thousand Springs State Park in the Magic Valley near Hagerman. That’s just gone out to bid; those campsites won’t be done until next year’s camping season. Also in the works is a new 50-space campground at Eagle Island State Park in the Treasure Valley, but it’s several years out.

Freshman state Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, proposed HB 93 this year, citing his personal pet peeve that he could never get a spot for his camper at popular Farragut State Park, just 30 miles from his home, unless there was a cancellation, because that park is so popular with out-of-staters, including those traveling over from nearby Washington.

Idaho state Parks Director Susan Buxton welcomed the move, and the bill passed both houses and was signed into law March 19, taking effect immediately. However, that was too late to affect this year’s camping season, since all the most popular state park campgrounds already are booked for the summer.

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Friday's edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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