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Early camping passes help smooth traffic flow at WE Fest

It's hard not to notice the population spike in Detroit Lakes during WE Fest weekend, but incoming Wednesday traffic hasn't been as backed up in the last few years, thanks to the offering of early camping passes.

They're not advertised other than on the WE Fest Web site, said Chryll Sparks, a co-producer of the festival, which ends up working well because half of the campers come on Tuesday and the other half drive in on Wednesday.

It's been a godsend for security and traffic person-nel, too. Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon said they developed the idea a few years back to help eliminate traffic problems on Highway 59.

By taking away the build up of cars on Wednesday, he said, more campers were able to drive right into their sites without much of a wait.

It's important to keep traffic moving so emer-gency vehicles can get through if they need to, Gordon said.

The early camping pass costs $50 per vehicle this year.

State Patrol Capt. Bruce Hentges said there was a line of early campers on the shoulder of Highway 59 on Tuesday, but they didn't cause delays.

"I guess it's pretty popu-lar," Hentges said. "People just want to get in another day of WE Fest."

For Angela Lee, 41, and her family from southern Minnesota, they came with a large group of people and camp in the same spot near the front of Lake Sallie campground, so it's almost a requirement to take advan-tage of the early camping passes.

The crew of 12 people, from Fairfax, Gibbon and Winthrop, Minn., arrived in Detroit Lakes with their RV and other vehicles at 10:30 p.m. on Monday night, and parked along the shoulder and slept in their vehicles, ready to be allowed in on Tuesday.

They were 13th in line, Lee said. Last year, they were seventh, but generally they have three to four times the amount of people in their group of friends and family.

This is their seventh year at WE Fest, and she said the $50 fee is actually lower than in past years. It was $100 per vehicle a couple of years ago, she said.

"To get our spot, it's defi-nitely worth it," Lee said. "It's easy to get back and forth from the grounds, if someone wants something to eat, or doesn't feel well. Plus, you can still hear the music from here if you wanted to stay put."

Sparks said the system has worked well, but they don't advertise it because they don't want too many campers coming early - it would just push the traffic problem to Tuesday instead of Wednesday.

"When people are sitting on the highway for so long, it's really dangerous, be-cause then people start get-ting out of their cars and playing Frisbee and all that," she said. "This way, people aren't generally on the road for more than 20 minutes, we try to move them through."

Still, it's better than the miles of traffic backed up that used to happen every year, Gordon said.

"It does serve its purpose and works very well," he said.