Hoosier Campers Flock to Parks and Campgrounds
More people are getting into camping this summer, which offers inexpensive accommodations, an up-close view of nature and a chance to experience "the simple life" for a few days.
That means reservations are up at campgrounds around Indiana, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
At campgrounds in Indiana's state parks and reservoirs, bookings are up 9%this year, said Christie Wilmoth, a project manager with the DNR's Division of State Parks and Reservoirs.
Entrance gate and annual permit sales revenues have increased by 14% from the same period last year, she added.
While the weather is always the most important factor affecting these numbers, the economy also likely plays a role by keeping people closer to home for their vacations this year, Wilmoth said.
Camping is "a cheaper alternative to a major vacation," says Rob Weber, assistant manager of operations at the Gander Mountain sporting-goods store in Indianapolis.
That's why he's seen a "huge influx" of beginners buying equipment during the past two years.
In the past, many new customers were just getting gear for a child in Scouting. Now they're buying enough for all family members to go camping together.
"Your initial gear can be overwhelming – there's bit of a price shock there. … A lot of it will last you for life. Once you get the gear, there's no expense except getting to where you're going and food, and you have to eat, anyway," said Rick Bodeker, who owns Earth Adventures Unlimited in Fort Wayne.
"Our canoeing, kayaking and backpacking (sales) have picked up. Our business has been good; there's no question in my mind that the economy has affected that," Bodeker says.
Sales of tents and sleeping bags have increased slightly this year after dropping last fall, said Stuart Bourdon, editor of Camping Life magazine.
He believes camping's seemingly growing popularity is directly related to a family's personal finances. Those who had thought about buying a small travel trailer or recreational vehicle might not be able to do it. But they can stock up on "car camping" equipment instead.
"For $1,000 (or less), you can outfit your family with everything you need. It's a pretty inexpensive way to get out," he says.
In Indiana, private campground owners have noticed more visitors from towns that are fairly close by, said Dave Blystone, president of the Indiana Campground Owners Association and owner of Fallen Rock Parke Campground near Brazil.
"We've been getting a lot more campers from Brazil, more so than from Indy or Fort Wayne, because it's a farther drive," he said.
At the association's recent monthly meeting of 70 members, most said their reservations were similar to last year, Blystone said.
But at Fallen Rock, reservations have increased slightly from last year, both during the week and on weekends. Holidays are a different story. While the July Fourth weekend was very good, he said, Memorial Day weekend bookings were down, and he expects the same for Labor Day weekend.