Time to hit the road, pitch a tent

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photo</I><BR>The Dunks (left to right) Dillon, B.R., Simon and Buffy took advantage of the free "Come Kamp With Us Day" at KOA Friday May 14 to take a "three-day vacation" from their home in Issaquah.

Fantastic weather gets campers out earlier in the season

BAY CENTER - Dean Bryan and his wife Kathleen were happy to be near the beach. Upon arriving at the KOA campground in Bay Center Friday May 14, the couple walked down to the shore of Willapa Bay and raked up a few handfuls Manilla clams, which they had soaking in a bucket of water next to their picnic table as they were engrossed in a game of cribbage.

"They say it's about 200 yards. It's a nice trail - 31 steps down - and then 31 steps back up!" Kathleen laughed.

A collector, Kathleen also found herself a good amount of beach glass, which she had piled up on the table like glistening pieces of candy, all smoothed out and frosted looking.

A frosty cup of root beer and ice cream was in the cards for those who arrived soon enough that night, as Tim Ahlstrom and his wife Katy, owner/operators of the Bay Center KOA, offered up a free dessert social to encourage interaction between the campers who had come to take part in the free "Come Kamp With Us Day." While camping season doesn't usually start until Memorial Day weekend, with all the nice weather this spring, it's hard for people not to want to be outdoors.

This is the first time that KOA has offered the free camp day. The main goal was to raise money for Kare Kamp, which offers children with cancer the chance to take camping trips. Tim said that if anyone wanted to pay for their night on the free day, those funds would go to Kare Kamp - they also put out a donation can during the ice cream social.

"The other thing was to get exposure out to folks, families who normally don't go camping to give it a try," he said.

That worked for the Bryans, who say they have been wanting to get out and do some camping since they retired recently.

"We saw this lovely free day and our motor home was sitting in the driveway, ready to go," said Kathleen.

The free camping day was a nation-wide event, with most of the KOAs across America participating.

"We'll find out from KOA if it was a big success or not," said Ahlstrom. "It seems to be, because the people who are here right now seem to enjoy it."

B.R. Dunk and his wife Buffy said that the free day encouraged them to take a three-day vacation from their home in Issaquah with their two young boys, Dillon and Simon. She said that if it wasn't for the promotion, they wouldn't have come out this early in the season.

Though there are KOAs closer to where they live, B.R. said they always like to go to new places, which is how they ended up on the Willapa.

"We've been going to the mountains and the trees a lot, so we thought we'd come to the beach now," he said.

"And you want it to be far enough away that it feels like you're not in your back yard," said Buffy.

B.R. said being originally from the mid-west, Oklahoma to be precise, they are used to having to drive three to four hours to get where they are going so the trip down wasn't that bad - even though they loaded up their small sedan pretty good in order get there.

Having only camped while staying in cabins, this time the Dunks decided to "rough it" outside. They camped in a two-room tent, a spacious piece of gear, to say the least. They also made sure to have some of the comforts of home, thanks to having an electrical hook-up at their site which provided them with the use of a heater, a pump to blow up their queen-sized air mattress and an electric grill, which B.R. used to cook up some fajitas that night.

"We still have to be gourmet," said B.R., who his wife said has a nickname of 'Chef B.R.D.' "Roughing it in style."

KOA estimated to have donated over 24,000 campsites across America for the event. The Ahlstroms donated 20 sites at their campground; almost all of those were taken.

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