Camping is a growing industry across the commonwealth, and improvements are being made to meet the needs of outdoor enthusiasts.
Jason Vaughan, executive director of the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association, said his organization represents 232 privately owned campgrounds across the state. “People love outdoor recreation,” he said.
When people go camping, they are also looking for things to do outside the campsites like hiking, golfing and fishing. He said 86 million people went camping nationwide last year, which is up from 71 million people in 2014.
Vaughan said people like the outdoor experience, and with COVID-19 concerns last year camping was a safe way to be outside in your own area. “Having their own space and equipment made them feel more comfortable last year,” he said.
People are also camping when they travel to destinations such as historic sites and zoos and just sight-seeing adventures, he said. There were also spikes in the number of campers going fishing and hunting, too.
With people being able to work remotely, Vaughan said many of the campgrounds are improving their amenities and services, especially Wi-Fi access. People can work from a camper as easily as work from home.
With an increase in new people to the hobby, he said the campgrounds were helping more visitors to learn how to set up a campsite, including the utilities such as electric, water and sewage, as well as how to back up a trailer with your vehicle. He said there were a lot of people renting last year as they wanted to try it before buying. In addition, there was a shortage of campers on dealer lots for those wanting to buy.
Vaughan said glamping, where someone furnishes most everything you need to camp, was also up in visitations.
Nationally, he said 4.7 million tried glamping last year as compared to 1.2 million the previous year. People stayed in RVs, treehouses, covered wagons and yurt tents that are part of the glamping experience. It’s a way to “try camping and see what they like,” he said.
With campgrounds being busier than ever, Vaughan said the answer might be booking a stay between Sunday and Thursday, days that traditionally have more campsite availability.
Doug Huston, who co-owns Hickory Hollow Campground in Rockwood with his brother Mark, said they’ve seen an increase in people wanting to do all types of camping, including tenting to the largest of recreational vehicles.
Campers are coming in all sizes, from ultralights being pulled by small SUVs to those needing to be pulled by larger pickups. He remembers last summer realizing that camping is “the go-to activity during the pandemic.”
He said they are still seeing an increase in people wanting to camp as more people are finding ways to successfully work outside of their office. What that means for campgrounds is that they have to be able to provide the services that people need. He said when people pull into their campsite, they expect there to be electricity, water/sewer service and internet access.
Huston said their park, as well as many others, are working with vendors to improve the speed and access to broadband service. That can be a difficult and expensive task because many campgrounds are located in remote areas where general internet services may be lacking.
“We’re seeing more of the millennial generation,” Huston said about the changing demographic of campers that now includes younger people who need technology.
One improvement he is seeing on campers is solar power. He knows a person who installs solar panels with lithium storage batteries on a wide variety of campers for those who want to camp in places without electricity.
“Technology has really improved over the years,” he said about the efficiency of solar generation and battery storage.
Another change Huston has noticed is that campers are staying during the mid week as well as weekends.
He recalls seeing his campground as full on some weekdays as it had been in the past on weekends. People are becoming more aware of how camping in the outdoors is a safe experience in your own contained environment.
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Brian Whipkey is the Pennsylvania Outdoors columnist for Gannett. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website’s homepage.