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Strange summer stretches out for lake-loving locals

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | August 31, 2020 1:09 AM

The sun hung high over Lake Coeur d’Alene as the last August weekend came to a close Sunday afternoon.

“It feels like it ended too soon,” Bethany Arland said as she emerged from Lake Coeur d’Alene and stepped onto City Beach. “It feels like it just started."

Arland wasn’t talking about the weekend. The Coeur d’Alene resident, along with a flock of local beachgoers, tourists and businesses, took a few minutes out of their sunshine bliss to lament their woes over an all-too-fleeting summer like no other on record: a summer shortened by a cold spring and altered by a global pandemic.

But the summer has offered an opportunity to look on the bright side of the season, too.

“(COVID-19) has given us a lot of time to hang out at home,” Christina Spicer of Athol said. “It’s let us do some different things we wouldn’t have been able to do.”

Spicer was taking her daughter, Alyssa, and her miniature pincher, Willow, down into Coeur d’Alene to enjoy another weekend of summer, a summer the younger Spicer said she didn’t want to take for granted.

“We’re just going to enjoy the last of the sunshine while we can,” Alyssa said. “This summer’s been somewhat normal, but it’s been a little different.”

Different, the Spicer family said, because the usual summertime routines have been dashed by the coronavirus and the health protocols it prompted, turning most family vacations into staycations.

“We had some trips planned to Silverwood,” Christina said. “But it ended up we couldn’t because of the mask mandate and because of social distancing. So we’ve just made the best of it.”

When the pandemic hit the United States and forced Gov. Brad Little — along with every other governor in the country — to shut down before the spring, many questioned whether or not tourist destinations reliant on vacationers would survive the summer, let alone thrive. But North Idaho made it through the summer mostly intact, in part because of Little’s Idaho Rebounds plan to re-open, which let area businesses open back up while other nearby states remained shuttered, becoming a tourist haven for out-of-state travelers in need of a respite from their COVID-saturtated lives. That, coupled with a sunny 10-day forecast, gives local businesses a cheery outlook for a strong — and slow — end to a strange summer.

“We’re absolutely happy we got to have a summer,” Emily Boyd of the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association said. “And I think our tourism season is going to extend into the fall.

"Businesses are seeing that tourism is still high, and they’re attributing it to different school structures across the country. Schools are either getting postponed, or some parents aren’t sending their kids back right away, which is creating a longer summer vacation for many families.”

Local school schedules, Boyd added, have driven more summer business, as well, as Kootenai County rolls into Labor Day weekend, traditionally a marker for how the area is holding up economically.

“I think we can expect numbers to be strong this coming weekend,” Boyd said. “We are still seeing a high number of tourists come through the area, and with school being pushed back locally and kids enjoying the extended summer season safely, I think we can plan for a healthy holiday weekend.”

Two of those tourists spent a few minutes on Sunday pumping up an inflatable kayak at Honeysuckle Beach. Catherine Munoz said she and her partner, Simon Mamic, were happy to come over from Seattle this weekend to get some fresh air and get away from the city. The nurse said the great outdoors was just what she needed to relax and get away.

“We’ve been going on some hikes this summer,” Munoz said, “but not as much as we usually do. There’s a lot more planning that goes into it now — not just for where you’re going but also how you’re going to enjoy your vacation. It’s definitely more complicated.”

Mamic said he and Munoz decided not to wait to take a weekend getaway; postponing until the pandemic passes would be a long wait.

“I don’t think things will ever go back to the way they were,” Mamic said. “But I think we’ll adapt. The new normal will be whatever iteration or whatever it’ll turn out to be, but who knows what it’ll look like? So we just said, let’s enjoy this now.”

The “now” Mamic and Munoz speak of is scheduled to last longer than their weekend getaway. While today’s forecast includes some showers and a high of about 72, the summer heat is expected to extend through the holiday weekend. Weekday forecasts in the mid-80s should crest Friday with a high around 90 before dipping back down into the high 70s and low 80s by Labor Day, giving locals and visitors alike at least another week to make more summer memories.

For some beachgoers, the summer of 2020 might be a season they’re too young to remember.

“We’re just trying to keep things as normal as possible for them,” Brandi Mesbah said, sitting in the sand at Honeysuckle Beach with her husband, John, while their two kids played in Hayden Lake. “We’ve been doing things outdoors for them more. Typical summer stuff.”

“Honestly, it’s been really great,” John added as the two kept their eyes on Cole, 6 and his 5-year-old sister, Aria. “Brandi is working with the kids from home this year, so we’ll have a little bit more summer. The kids just love to go out and go floating. We brought little shovels for them to rake up in the sand and have a good time. It’s actually been a good summer.”

When asked how he expects next summer to look, John stayed pleasantly optimistic.

“You know,” he said, “once everything changes, people will eventually start to feel safer. I think it’ll be a little bit easier. I think it’ll definitely be better next year.”

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CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press Local resident LeAnne Larkin enjoyed her birthday paddleboarding the lakes around North Idaho. She said she's done everything possible to enjoy the outdoors in 2020, despite a short spring and pandemic-riddled summer.

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CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press Aria Mesbah, 5, of Post Falls enjoys a healthy dose of social distancing at Honeysuckle Beach. The end of August doesn't mean the end of summertime fun this year, as temperatures are supposed to steadily climb back into the low 90s by Friday.

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CRAIG NORTHRUP/Press Simon Mamic and Catherine Munoz of Seattle wait for their inflatable kayak to rise. Travel dollars have taken a hit from the pandemic, but Idaho's re-opening has drawn tourists to the Coeur d'Alene area to save what was going to be a lost summer.