CARSON — For Jackie Heisinger, this weekend isn’t just the start of summer. It’s the beginning of an extended family reunion.
Heisinger, 52, is host at Panther Creek campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
It’s her fifth summer at the 32-site camp six miles north of Carson in southern Skamania County.
“I couldn’t be more blessed to have this life,’’ Heisinger said on Monday. “Smell this air. But it’s the people, the campers, who come here. I have my returns who come back year after year.
“It’s fun to watch their kids grow up...The campers will be so excited to get back. They’ll bring me gifts, plates of food I’ll stick in the refrigerator. It’s just wonderful.’’
An employee of Hoodoo Recreation Services, the concessionaire operating Panther Creek and several other campgrounds, Heisinger returned to the camp on May 16 and opened it four days later.
“There’s plenty to do go get these campgrounds ready, clean and safe,’’ she said.
“There are hazard trees to remove and I like to zigzag through camp look for bee’s nests.’’
Heisinger had a smattering of campers last weekend, but it will get busy fast now.
Derek Greidanns of Okotoks, Alberta, stayed at Panther Creek on Sunday night. He’s near the end of a long trip that included southern Utah, Arizona, California, the Oregon coast and Columbia Gorge.
Greidanns left home on April 18.
“Life is so much longer out on the road because you’re sampling it full-time,’’ he said.
Heisinger also has been a host at La Wis Wis campground at the north end of the Gifford Pinchot.
She’ll be on duty five days a week until the weekend following Labor Day.
“I have a hard time leaving this place in the fall,’’ she said.
Backcountry buffs will need to be content with low-elevation locales this Memorial Day weekend because the high country remains under deep snow.
The snow level is at about 3,200 feet elevation.
At June Lake, elevation 3,440 feet on the south side of Mount St. Helens, 108 inches of snow remain. At Surprise Lakes elevation 4,290 feet northeast of Indian Heaven Wilderness, 123 inches were reported on Wednesday. Potato Hill, elevation 4,510 feet north of Mount Adams, has 82 inches.
With long days and slowly warming temperatures, the streams of the forest are flowing hard, which makes for great waterfall viewing.
Campgrounds open this weekend include Panther Creek, Paradise Creek, Beaver, Sunset Falls, Government Mineral Springs, Lower Falls, Trout Lake Creek, Kalama Horse Camp, and Mount Adams Horse Camp on the south end of the Pinchot.
Campgrounds open on the north end include Iron Creek, La Wis Wis, North Fork and Tower Rock. La Wis Wis and North Fork do not have water yet.
Scheduled to open in late June or early July when the snow melts are Takhlakh Lake, Walupt Lake, Chain of Lakes, Horseshoe Lake, Keenes Horse Camp, Killen Creek, and Olallie Lake campgrounds.
Given the amount of snow still in the high country, and the cold spring, those opening dates may be optimistic.
Most roads are open to about the 3,500-foot elevation level, depending on aspect. South-facing roads melt out soon than north-facing.
Popular Lewis River road No. 90 is blocked by a large rock slide at milepost 35, which is 2.5 miles east of Quartz Creek Bridge. Some high-clearance vehicles are getting around the slide.
Road No. 83 is closed by a gate at Marble Mountain Sno-Park. Road No. 25 from the North Lewis River to Randle is closed by snow. Road No. 81 is open to Kalama Horse Camp.
Wind River road No. 30 is open to Lone Butte Sno-park. Panther Creek road No. 65 is open to milepost 9, which is about three miles beyond Panther Creek Falls.
Road No. 24 is open to west of Atkisson Sno-Park.
Road No. 23 is not open across Baby Shoe Pass from Trout Lake to Randle.
Among the popular trails snowfree this weekend are Falls Creek Falls No. 152A, Siouxon Creek No. 130 and Lewis River No. 31.
Dog Mountain trail in the Columbia Gorge also will be well-used this weekend, but the wildflowers at the top are still a week or two from reaching full bloom.