Generations of Americans got their first taste of national parks via car camping, that venerable tradition of driving to a park and setting up a tent or two in a roadside campground. That genre of park visitation seems to be slipping these days, though, and at least one car-camping aficionado blames it on economics -- there's more money to be made in lodgings than campgrounds.
That's the point driven home in a recent story in the Los Angeles Times by Eric Bailey.
The past quarter of a century has seen a shift in lodging tastes — and as baby boomers have given way to Generations X and Y, the number of tent and RV campers in national parks across the U.S. has dropped 44%. Meanwhile, the number of visitors in fixed-roof park lodgings has barely changed at all.
The camping decline comes amid debate over how to balance nature's needs with the recreational agenda of national park visitors. (Brian) Ouzounian believes Yosemite's planning efforts "have profit motives written all over them." The valley now has nearly three times more lodging units than campsites, and in that he sees a socioeconomic plot, a push to place more valley visitors in expensive accommodations.
Campers, he says, are the underdogs: "We're at the bottom of the food chain. You've got a camping culture that's more than a century old, but the park service really doesn't want to hear from us."
If Mr. Ouzounian is right, that the Park Service is going along with the move to boost lodging at the expense of campgrounds, perhaps that could be linked to the soft visitation numbers the national park system has witnessed in recent years. More so, such a move possibly could result in a disparity of economic diversity of park visitors, as those of lower incomes who rely on, and even prefer, car camping are effectively squeezed out of the parks.
For his part, Mr. Ouzounian is pushing a campaign to draw Congress' attention to this perceived slight.
His latest effort is an online petition calling for the return of (Yosemite's) flood-closed campsites. His goal is to send the thoughts of 10,000 campers to Congress. At last count, he had collected more than 700 signatures and testimonials from as far away as Massachusetts and Florida.
Diane Mello wrote that camping provides a more "intimate" Yosemite experience than hunkering down in a hotel room. Joel Swan of Illinois spoke of the slippery slope if the National Park Service discriminates against those of modest means. Richard Conklin suggested that "John Muir is turning over in his grave."