BLOOMINGTON — Memorial Day weekend is traditionally considered the start of the summer season. But this year, the “start” might be a week later, when Illinois opens the rest of its state parks and campgrounds and expands the number of people allowed to boat together when revised rules take effect May 29.
Like just about everything else these days, Memorial Day weekend is expected to look different from what it was in years past, with the lowest gas prices in 17 years and expectations of very low traffic volume amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Temperatures are forecast to be in the 80s in Central Illinois but there is a chance of showers and thunderstorms all three days.
Gas prices nationwide are averaging $1.93 a gallon, about a dollar below what they were a year ago, according to GasBuddy. In the Bloomington-Normal area, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.19 on Friday.
“While millions of Americans have been affected by the coronavirus, gas prices plummeted to their lowest since 2016, but what’s different this time around is that this environment is leading to the lowest-priced start to the summer driving season in over 17 years,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
Gas prices normally peak around Memorial Day, but De Haan expects them to peak around Labor Day.
"The trend will remain upward as the U.S. continues to recover from the coronavirus," he said.
For the first time in 20 years, AAA Chicago Motor Club didn’t even issue a Memorial Day travel forecast.
“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend — the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”
That’s the expectation in Illinois, where Paul Wappel, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said, “We anticipate traffic will be a lot less than is typical for a Memorial Day weekend.”
Nevertheless, nonemergency construction has been suspended for the weekend to keep as many traffic lanes open as possible.
Wappel said rest areas will be open and facilities will be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
“The stay-at-home order is still in effect, so we ask people to limit their travel to essential travel only,” he said.
Make sure your intended destination is open and facilities are available. For example, McLean County's Comlara Park is open to boating, fishing, hiking and biking, but its campground and picnic shelters are closed. Glaesner Beach will not open this summer.
For a list of state parks that are open, check https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/closures/Pages/ParksOpenDuringCoVID19.aspx.
For boaters, the governor’s directive places a limit of two people per boat. The rainy forecast might discourage others.
If you do venture out, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources reminds boaters of these state laws:
• A properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or vest must be available for each person aboard a boat or other watercraft.
• Anyone under age of 13 must wear a life jacket while aboard any watercraft under 26 feet in length at all times the boat is underway, unless they are below deck in an enclosed cabin or operating on private property.
• Persons of any age must wear a personal flotation device while operating personal watercraft or Jet Ski.
• Operating a watercraft while under the influence is unlawful.
Recent rains have left many rivers and creeks running high and fast. Several, including the Mackinaw, Vermilion and Sangamon rivers, were recently above flood stage, which means they could have additional debris and fallen trees that could cause a paddler to capsize and be trapped.
“People often think that floodwaters don’t pose an additional risk, but they often can’t see what’s below the water — debris or even submerged docks or walls,” said Rachel Torbert, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “When you add to that rapid currents, there are many dangers which could easily lead to injury or death, not to mention the risk posed to first responders and law enforcement.”
Classic Barbecued Chicken
Grilled Halibut with Butter Caper Herb Sauce
Quick Vegetable Pickles
Avocado Dip with Sesame Seeds
Grilled Korean Beef Short Ribs
Grilled Lobster Tails With Herb Butter
Mexican-Style Corn Salad
Herb-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Asian-Flavored Pork Tenderloin
Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota
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