Family camping vacations, a staple of American summers for much of the last century, appear to be waning, according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Some forms of outdoor recreation, such as camping, particularly tent camping, have declined fairly precipitously,” said Geoffrey Godbey, a professor of leisure studies at Pennsylvania State University. Godbey cited an aging, more urban population, shorter vacations and that familiar culprit – changing lifestyles – for the shift.
Part of the decline in tent camping may be credited to the popularity of RVs packaged with all the comforts of home. Private campgrounds, offering more elaborate conveniences including cable television and high-speed Internet connections, reported their numbers are up in recent years.
In addition, the Inquirer reported that surveys show younger Americans are simply losing interest in the outdoors.
“The lure of the outdoors is not faring well, compared to the lure of electronics,” said Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition, a Washington-based organization of recreation companies and trade associations.
He said recent surveys for the Recreation Roundtable showed young people, especially, were less likely than in the past to camp or otherwise get outdoors frequently.
“For the first time, we saw the percentage of people in their 20s who are frequent recreationalists drop below those in their 30s, 40s, and 50s,” Crandall said. “That’s a real departure from the past. We have never seen the relative paucity of recreational participation by younger Americans.”
America’s national parks, long a favorite camping destination, have been losing campers for years. In 1981, about 8.9 million people camped in tents and RVs in national park campgrounds. In 2003, the number was down to 5.7 million.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA), which has about 470 privately operated campgrounds around the country, reports a 10 percent decline in camper-nights over the last decade: about 5.5 million in 2003, compared with 6.1 million in 1994. Much of that decline, said KOA spokesman Mike Gast, is due to fewer campsites and changes in land use.
Not all surveys, though, agree that camping is on the wane. The government’s National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, which periodically asks Americans about their outdoor activities, has shown a continuing increase in the numbers who say they camp and participate in most other outdoor recreation.