Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
A week ago, Amber Boelman of Woodward didn't have any Memorial Day travel plans. But now she does.
"We are going to Moore. I just want to take my kids and teach them about helping other people and volunteering," Boelman said.
She and her family will be joined on the roads by a thousands of other Oklahomans heading for various destinations this weekend. The number of state residents traveling at least 50 miles or more for the holiday is up from last year.
More than 611,500 Oklahomans are expected to travel over Memorial Day, according to AAA Oklahoma's Memorial Day travel forecast. That is an increase of nearly 1 percent over travel last year. A full 85 percent of those plan to drive to their destination despite gas prices that are creeping over 50 cents higher per gallon than last year, according to AAA spokesman, Chuck Mai.
"Keep in mind, we did this survey before gas prices hiked this week so that number might be changing," he said.
Gasoline prices aren't the reason some are staying home for the holiday. For a few area residents, the weather and day-to-day life demands ranked higher on their list of reasons than gasoline prices for planning a quiet holiday at home.
"Look at the weather," Marvin Rains of Woodward said Thursday as he waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "It's 62 degrees and chilly. You can't swim and boat in this. It might even be too cold to barbecue."
Nevertheless, most local parks are booked and plan to have full venues through the holiday weekend and that points to a still robust and slight uptick in feelings about travel over last year's numbers, Mai said.
"What I find interesting is the number of people who are driving instead of flying to their destinations," Mai said. About 80,500 Oklahomans plan to fly this weekend to their destinations, down by nearly 350 who chose the airlines last year over the family car.
"I really think that the increase in baggage fees and just the hassle of flying overall has people choosing to drive more than last year, Mai said.
That's not surprising considering that even though the average person will spend nearly $570 this holiday weekend, they still prefer to shuck out the dough on what they want, not how they get there.
"About 20 percent of what they will spend will go for food and beverages, almost as much,19 percent, will go for accommodations and 18 percent on shopping," Mai said. Only 12 percent of this years spending by travelers will be used for transportation or fuel, he said.
Driving does make for better opportunities for family games such as "I Spy With My Little Eye" and family songs such as "The Ants Came Marching". But driving does present its own liabilities.
This year, according to Oklahoma Highway Patrol officials, troopers will be paying special attention to speeding and seatbelt violations, as well as drivers who are operating vehicles under the influence.
Officials noted a decrease in Memorial Day accidents over the last three years and their intent is to shepherd that trend to continue.
Drivers in and around the Woodward and Panhandle region can plan on a pretty clear route since there are only a few current Department of Transportation projects, said DOT spokesman Cole Hacket.
"Motorists please avoid I-35 through Moore to allow clean up crews unfettered access to respond to the tornado.
"Heavy traffic in the area has been hindering clean-up operations and ongoing emergency response," Hacket said.
Hacket also informed drivers that State Highway 102 is closed near Bethel Acres for 4 miles south of I-40 because of tornado damage.