TWO HARBORS (AP) -- The park office doesn't open for another half hour, but Dave and Deb Koefod don't care. The couple from St. Louis Park is sitting in a light rain in their Nissan pickup, where they've been since 6:30 a.m.
They're playing the state-park campsite waiting game, and they're good at it.
Three months ago, they made a phone reservation to guarantee themselves a campsite at this popular North Shore state park. But the reservation doesn't guarantee them a specific site. And they want a specific site.
"We always want 13," Dave said. "Thirteen is No. 1."
But they have backup sites in case No. 13 is taken.
"Then 16 or 17, up on the hill, with a view of the lake and the lighthouse. Then 4," Koefod said.
They have a good shot at 13. They are the only ones in line early. If the campers in No. 13 decide to leave early, the Koefods will get to move in to the lakeshore site.
But the waiting game is far from over. The park office opens at 9 a.m. That's when the Koefods will put their names on the waiting list for their desired site. Campers already in the park's 20 sites will have until 11 a.m. to declare whether they're staying another night or not. That's when park officials will know exactly which campsites will be open, and the Koefods can make their declaration for one of them.
But departing campers have until 4 p.m. to leave, so the Koefods may not be pitching their tent until then.
It's a waiting game thousands of campers play every summer on the North Shore, where many state parks fill with campers almost every night. Some families actually split up for the waiting game, leaving one representative at Split Rock and sending another to Gooseberry or Tettegouche, communicating by cell phone to secure the best campsite possible.
Michelle Duhant sees the competitive-camping scenario play out every day. She works the front lines at Split Rock, and she sees the lines form outside almost every morning.
"We have this one couple, they're annual campers up here," Duhant said. "They'll come in the day before and just take any site. That night, they'll have a lawn chair and bring it up to the office and bring books. They do tag-team reading. They switch places during the night, taking turns sleeping."
That's how seriously some campers take this business of getting their favorite site.
"There's usually a line here in the morning," Duhant said. "People are feeding their children in front of the office on blankets. There are people with hibachis going, cooking breakfast out there. I affectionately call them the Hibachi People."
One couple, from Rochester, leaves home about 11 p.m. and drives north, arriving at Split Rock about 4 a.m. to be first in line. People who arrive at 7 a.m. and think they're getting a jump on a specific site are often sadly mistaken. They may get a site, but it may not be their preferred site.
"Over the years, people figured if 7 (a.m.) was good, 6 would be better," Duhant said, "and if 6 is good, 5 is probably a whole lot better."
Park workers don't seem to mind the fuss outside their offices each morning.
"I don't see it as a negative," Duhant said. "It's just a fact up here."
The prospective campers nearly always get along well, she said. They know who's ahead of them in line. They know who's behind them. They don't squabble.
"In the 17 years I've been here, it's happened only once," she said.
Meanwhile, the wait continues for the Koefods. And it would pay off.
They secured site No. 13 that rainy morning and spent the next six nights there.
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