Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tremendous Growth in Camping

Is it the “Staycation” phenomenon driven by the recession, or is it a desire to reconnect with nature? Either way, local residents are turning to camping in record numbers. In just the last year, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has seen a jump in camping of 10 percent increase over last summer, and an astonishing 75 percent increase since 2004.

“Part of the recent interest in camping is likely driven by the economy and camping being a low cost form of vacation. However, since it has been on an upward trend over the last five years I have to think part of it is a desire to spend more time outside,” said Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. “Richard Louv made the idea of ‘nature deficit disorder’ popular in his best selling book ‘Last Child in the Woods.’ This growth in camping may be partially driven by a desire of families to spend more time exploring the outdoors,” Gilbert continued.

For Pohick Bay in Lorton and Bull Run in Centreville - the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s two family camp grounds – it has proven to be one busy summer.

“We haven’t seen this kind of traffic in decades,” said Todd Benson, Park Manager at Pohick Bay. “Typically, you might see crowds of this size on a holiday weekend, or if it should coincide with some kind of local event. This summer, you’re talking about your average weekend from Thursday to Sunday.”

Tom Doyle, Vice President of Information and Research at the National Sporting Good Association, says the increase in visitation is no fluke. “In our last national survey, we found that camping has dramatically increased, from 46 million campers (nationally) in 2005 to 49.4 million last summer.”

Those figures show no sign of slowing either. Camping, hiking, kayaking – all three areas remain on the rise according to Doyle. Meanwhile, tent sales nationally have been trending up the last few years.

“I fully expect the increase in camping to continue,” Doyle said. “People are foregoing expensive travel.”

That increase in the park’s regular weekend population has caused a swell in other areas as well. Pohick Bay’s boat rentals – especially kayaks - have boomed as eager campers take to the waters for fishing and a glimpse of nature.

Meanwhile, while many prefer to enjoy the great outdoors the old-fashioned way, recent surveys have also shown that vacation cabin rentals at Pohick Bay and Bull Run have increased dramatically, increasing 23 percent in a one year period.

“I think for lots of folks the cabins are a great compromise,” Benson added. “You can spend your day in the park, boating, fishing, hiking or swimming at the waterpark, then bunk for the night in a weather-controlled, temperature-controlled cabin. For many, it’s the best of both worlds.”

In addition to the social and economic factors driving more people to camp, the facilities at both Bull Run and Pohick Bay Regional Parks have seen significant improvements over the last few years including: updated restrooms, new playgrounds in the campgrounds, renovated waterparks, improved trails, additional power and sewer connections available at some camp sites, and new cabins. All of these new amenities make for a great camping experience.
As for the latter, Pirate’s Cove Waterpark at Pohick Bay and Atlantis Waterpark at Bull Run were both renovated, in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Both provide just one more great amenity for overnight park visitors, a great way to spend the day cooling off and enjoying the sun with family and friends.

“Honestly, I think our campgrounds are the complete package,” Gilbert added. “There’s something for everyone, and you don’t even need to leave the park.”


Mike Vandeman said...

I think that camping is very unfair to the wildlife. We commandeer their habitat during the day, now we don't let them use it at night, either?!

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at

For the rest:

Paul Gilbert said...

Mr. Vandeman,

Thanks for posting your comments. You clearly have given this a lot of thought.

I would be the first to agree that there are places where humans should stay away for the benefit of nature. These include areas that are habitat to rare and/or endangered species.

Campgrounds do not fall into this category or rare habitat.

Louv's point is that we are increasingly detached from nature and it is good for the mind, body and soul to spend more time outdoor in a natural setting. Camping is a perfect way to meet this need.

I am a firm believer that unless people experience nature first hand it is difficult for them to value it and protect it.

It is not surprising that Teddy Roosevelt who spent much of his time in outdoor activities did more to protect our natural resources than any other American. By getting people outdoors and in natural settings, we are creating the next generation of conservationists.