Outdoor camping is a low cost vacation option for American families coping with the current economic downturn. An online survey conducted in 2008 by the non-profit Outdoor Foundation indicates that, overall, Americans spent more time than they did the previous year enjoying outdoor activities like camping, hiking and biking.
For newcomers who lack their own outdoor-living gear and others who don't want to rough it, one campground on the outskirts of the nation's capital provides a special service called "camper-ready camping."
For an extra fee of $25 a night, with a minimum two-night stay at the Little Bennett Campground
in Clarksburg, Maryland, Rosemary Nichols, manager, and her assistant Lyn Duncan pitch a tent and set up camp chairs, a battery-powered lantern and a two-burner stove with propane fuel for cooking.
"I don't know if I'd call it luxury camping, because we are supplying just the very basics," Nichols said.
Getting kids outdoors
But the basics may be enough to get first-timers to give camping a try and open the door for children who, Nichols said, spend too much leisure time indoors at computers.
"There's not a lot of getting them outside and active and connecting them with nature," she said.
To attract more children, Little Bennett Campground offers special family programs on Saturdays.
"At two (in the afternoon) we do craft time for campers. And at three o'clock, we do a guided-trail hike that is about a mile long," Nichols said. After supper, the campground offers root beer floats, a special treat made with soda and vanilla ice cream. "On a good day, we can serve over 100 root beer floats in one night," she said.
Pitching tents can yield sense of accomplishment
On a Thursday evening, when no root beer floats were available, three girls seemed perfectly content to grill ears of corn on an open campfire. At age 12, Laura Smith has been camping with her family for five years and is proud that she, her sister and their friend set up their own tents.
Laura said camping gives her a sense of accomplishment. "Some people are scared of the bugs or the fire or cooking their own food. [But] when you get back, it's like, 'I did that,' especially if you do everything yourself." That includes putting up your own tent.
But after a six-hour drive from North Carolina, Jem Hopkins was relieved that she and her 12-year-old son, Ben, didn't have to do everything themselves. She said she has always been a tent camper.
"I like hearing the sounds of the night and waking up outside, but I sure love the convenience of somebody else setting up the tent," Hopkins said.
She added that she wished more campgrounds offered the camper-ready service. On weekends, Rosemary Nichols said high demand for Little Bennett Campground's tents keep them frequently booked.