Monday, September 25, 2006

Camping losing its charm?

It's a good news/bad news kind of thing: There are fewer people camping in the national parks than there were 10 years ago. The good news: Campers who still go can enjoy fewer crowds and a more pristine experience. The bad news: Fewer visitors means less interest and fewer funds for parks.

Park officials say the drop in campers may be due to a slumping economy, higher gas prices, more competition for people's time, and changing demographics.

"The long weekend is replacing the two-week time off," Jim Gramann, a professor at Texas A&M University and a visiting social scientist for the National Park Service, told the AP. "That means fewer overnight stays in the national parks."

Gramann said population changes may also have an impact because of the growth among some groups that are not traditional parkgoers. Census projections show that by 2050, ethnic minority groups will compose more than 47 percent of the U.S. population. And studies show members of those groups traditionally do not spend leisure time in the parks.

The Park Service reported that overnight stays in national parks fell by 13.8 million, or 20 percent, between 1995 and 2005, and have fallen an additional 4.3 percent in the first eight months of this year. The Park Service said tent camping dropped 23 percent, backcountry camping 24 percent and RV camping 31 percent in the10-year period.

Visits to “gem parks” in the intermountain region, which include Rocky Mountain, dipped between 2 percent and 15 percent during that time. “Let’s face it: It’s hard to protect the parks if no one is interested in them,” said Park Service statistician Butch Street.

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