The Maryland state park system is considering adding wireless Internet access to its list of amenities, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun.
State parks in California, Texas and Michigan are currently offering Wi-Fi service, and Col. Rick Barton, superintendent of Maryland’s 49 state parks, says he’s exploring the idea.
“My first reaction was: Never,” Barton said. “These places are meant to be a getaway. But then it’s, ‘Come on, Rick, people have cell phones. People have gadgets. People have motorhomes. They have TV.”
“Car camping” outings – pitching a tent or pop-up with a vehicle nearby – fell nearly 28% between 1998 and 2004, dropping from 338 million to 245 million according to a recent study by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, which represents retailers and nonprofit groups.
The survey also showed that backpacking declined 33%, from 98 million outings to 66 million, and the National Park Service recently reported drops in visitation as well.
If people can easily reach the Web while roughing it, Barton says, maybe they’ll be more willing to camp and to stay an extra day or two. “Maybe they’ll telecommute from their campsite,” he says.
Children, in particular, are used to having electronic media wherever they go. A Yogi Bear Jellystone Camp Resort in Williamsport, Md., has already gone wireless, and is looking for ways to use that access to let kids use more game systems in cabins, says resort owner Ron Vitkun.
Michael Lee, a spokesman for the Outdoor Industry Foundation, says his group is exploring ways to use technology to hook kids on camping. One example is geocaching, a kind of high-tech treasure hunting that uses hand-held global positioning system devices. “Kids who are used to interfacing with a screen can be doing that in the woods,” he says.
At Maryland’s Cunningham Falls’ Houck Area campground, where the conditions are still rustic, Geoff and Valerie Price brought a TV with built-in VCR. They didn’t think daughter Haylee, 2 1/2 , could survive in the woods without “Barney.”
“I was in Boy Scouts for many years, and we didn’t have the TVs,” her father says. “But the little ones, they like it.”