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Camping No Longer ‘Roughing it’ Experience

The following is a report by Beth J. Harpaz, AP travel editor examining the amenitites and types of facilities, in lieu of a tent, offered at modern-day campgrounds.

These days, camping isn’t just pitching a tent in the wilderness on a long hike, or stopping at a campground far from home on a road trip.

Instead, for many leisure travelers, camping nowadays may involve driving just a few miles from home to spend the night in a cabin with a roof, bathroom, beds and electricity, or taking the kids to a place that offers activities and entertainment like scavenger hunts or sports competitions.

Jolene Baxman organizes an annual two-night trip for a dozen mothers and their kids to a Kampgrounds of America facility in Petaluma, Calif., a mere 5 miles from where she lives. But they don’t pitch tents. They rent a lodge with a bathroom, indoor shower, kitchenette, microwave, barbecue grill, and, of course, beds. The moms take turns relaxing and making meals; the kids swim and bike. At night, they sing around a campfire and toast marshmallows.

“It’s not far from our homes but it feels like we’re camping,” Baxman said. “We’re out in the woods; it’s very beautiful — lush trees and you don’t hear any cars around. We’re not in a tent, but it’s camping to us.”

More than half of those staying with Kampgrounds of America say they were at home the night before arriving at the campground, according to KOA CEO Jim Rogers. That’s a 25 percent increase over seven years.

Rogers says work demands, kids’ schedules, high gas prices and other concerns are all contributing to the trend. “They just want to stay within reach and go away for shorter time periods,” he said.

Rogers also said KOAs have seen a 25 percent increase in the use of roofed accommodations at their campgrounds. “It’s attracting a whole new breed of campers, people we haven’t seen before,” he said.

In Ohio, the Lazy River at Granville campground, 25 miles from Columbus, offers activities and entertainment ranging from a zipline to magic shows to arts and crafts. For those who bring laptops and TV sets, there is wireless Internet and cable service. One of the most popular attractions at Lazy River is the “bug lady,” a local woman who takes visitors on a walk in the woods, where she points out bugs. “She’s the Pied Piper of bugs,” said Mark Kasper, owner of Lazy River. “She just entrances her audience.”

Kasper observed that when he was young, “you’d go to the state park and watch a presentation with a ranger and a movie. Now it’s different. We try to have everything the modern-day person wants, and yet you’re away from the city.”

Jeff Crider, spokesman for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, says “more and more campgrounds across the country are offering organized activities that could range from nature walks to special themed weekend events like holiday events or Father’s Day events. You can still find plenty of campgrounds that offer a natural setting and a nice environment for kayaking, fishing, or river tubing, but what the parks are finding is that more and more families want things to do. And fun activities are a way to get kids away from computers and iPods and do something as a family.”

In addition, campgrounds that offer these types of activities find that people will stay longer — three or four days instead of just a weekend.

Crider said accommodations are also changing. Campgrounds are investing in everything from yurts and furnished teepees to cottages and cabins. A KOA in Herkimer, N.Y., just opened three furnished cabins for rent that are powered by solar panels, with a backup propane generator.

“If they can provide rental accommodations, then they can make camping accessible to everyone. It isn’t just people who like to rough it in a tent or who have an RV,” Crider said. Click here to read more.

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#1 Comment By Marty Perrone On May 19, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

Way to go, Beth! I could not have said it any better my self. Your article put into words the motivation behind our six year undertaking so susinctly. Perhaps you could find some time to contact me so we could explore your literary effors more carefully. I look forward to speaking with you in the near future.

#2 Comment By Candace Rivero On June 6, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

I agree. More and more families WOULD go “camping”, more women would go “glamping” and more RVers would stay at State and local parks IF there were more reasons to do so.

My first camping experiences were on the east coast – places with spaces under the trees, lots of green grassy open spaces and room for a quiet bicycle ride or campfire. They often had events planned – with walks or lessons conducted by the ranger on site.

Since moving to Arizona, I have discovered the park system in this state is completely different. There are rarely scheduled events, often just water & electric (no sewer connections) for the RV spaces and they charge just as much as the private RV parks charge who often provide shower & laundry amenities for guests. And I’m not talking about the RV resorts – just the regular parks.

Granted we have more wide open spaces out west – even the mountains are off in the distance, so there is moreland to develop, but I would like to see more reasons to state in a state park. Just parking and hiking is not enough for many families these days.

As the author says – Camping is no longer a roughing it experience. And families are no longer taking a 2-week vaca once a year. They want to slip away for a couple days more often – maybe 4 or 5 times a year.

Nowadays we have RV’s with all the conveniences of home. We want a compelling reason to stay in the state & local parks vs. a developed resort so we can really enjoy the RV.

AZ State Parks need to provide ranger led classes – for a small fee is OK (I understand budgets are tight) – something that really attracts local families to participate. Why would 2 active boys be happy sitting around listening to the birds for 2 days ? They want to learn about the birds and where they migrate to and why. Buying a plastic bird in the gift ship isn’t the point – LEARNING about nature IS the point.

Even allowing local groups use the park facilities for day-long events would be generate more use and revenue than not allowing large gatherings and spending funds to provide “security” to thousands of un-used public owned acreage.