We were sitting in a golf cart overlooking the campground and an adjacent 22-acre lake. The newly emerged green leaves had filled the winter induced voids between the tree branches, the water lilies were forming, some wild Canada geese were on the lake. It was a beautiful scene.
The campground is part of a working farm that has been in Chris’s family for over a hundred years. The campground part started in 1961. In 2004, they invested almost a million dollars improving the campground – all new electric and sewer along with concrete pads and patios. They built a new bathhouse and the pool was updated. Yes, it is a beautiful place and camping there has always been an enjoyable experience.
I asked Chris how everything was going. He looked at me and responded, “Randy, I think this will be the last season I’ll open the campground.”
I was shocked – no, flabbergasted is a more appropriate term. All I could think to say in response was “You have got to be kidding – why would you close the campground after all of the improvements you recently made?”
Chris was silent for a few minutes. He just gazed out over the campsites and lake. Then he started to explain why.
“Things have changed. People that come here are not as considerate and responsible as they used to be.
For example, I spent a lot of money on new picnic tables when we upgraded. Most of them have holes burned in them from charcoal grills being placed on top. We even had one chopped up and used for firewood by a camper last week.
We have signs on the fence around that pasture over there telling people to keep out. Marmaduke (the bull) stays in that pasture. He can get nasty if he is provoked. Two kids, maybe 12 years old, crossed the fence and were throwing rocks at Marmaduke. Luckly Bobby (Bobby is Chris’ son) saw them out there and was able to run them out of the pasture before Marmaduke hurt them. I went to talk to the kids parents. They had no idea where the kids were. They had just let them run loose unsupervised since early that morning. When I told them what had happened it was like, Well OK, what’s the problem?
The bathhouse was trashed earlier this week. All of the toilets were stopped up and the showers turned on hot and abandoned. It took most of the day to get everything back in order.
We had a couple of aluminum Jon boats over by the dock for campers to use. They are gone. Someone either hauled them out of here or sank them out in the middle of the lake.
Our electric bill has gone through the roof – almost triple what it was. Campers come in and turn on air conditioners then leave. They run all day with no one there. Many of the rigs now have electric water heaters, dryers, and convection ovens. The attitude of campers is they pay for it so it makes no difference how much power they use.
The number of campers is down from last season and those that do come complain about our rates, which we have not increased in five years. All of our costs are up – trash disposal has gone from $30 a week to $200 a week. Our liability insurance premiums have tripled.
This is just the tip of the iceberg – everything has changed. It seems like people just don’t care anymore.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I wondered what had happened to create the change. I looked at Chris and said, “All of your campers can’t be bad, can they? What about the folks and families that come here that act responsibly and respect your facility?
Chris slowly shook his head as he replied, “I know closing will hurt them, but I can’t afford to operate this place with what I see as rampant abuse. I may keep the campground open exclusively for seasonal campers – maybe a few sites for select campers like you.” With that, he looked at me and managed a smile.
As I was driving back home the next day my mind was spinning with all that Chris shared. I simply was not prepared for his story. Sure, I knew the cost of operating a campground must have risen as the economy faltered. New regulations on landfills had changed trash disposal. It made sense that Chris had not increased his rates – doing so would discourage family campers that were already squeezed with rising fuel and food prices.
It was his description of the lack of responsibility being displayed by an increasing number of campers that really bothered me – it was not what I had come to believe was happening.
I then began thinking about some of my camping habits. I wasn’t the most frugal with electrical usage. We did leave the air conditioner running when we were not in the camper. Maybe we could raise the thermostat when we were away for more than an hour or so? The remainder of Chris’s problems were not part of our agenda, but we had observed behavior like Chris described.
I was upset – I still am. Once again, irresponsible behavior and a lack of proper supervision of children are having an impact on our lifestyle as responsible campers.
What can we do to stop the loss of beautiful campgrounds like this one?