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The Cutting Edge

Campsites Awakening to a Digital Dawn

Lifestyles: The encroachment of high-tech gear upon the great outdoors was inevitable, perhaps, but not everyone is pleased.

July 27, 2000|MARTHA IRVINE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

So much for getting away from it all: Satellite dishes, computers, cell phones and other high-tech gadgets are becoming the norm at many campgrounds.

It's gotten to the point where "roughing it" means having to pay roaming charges to call home.

"My wife is roughing it now," jokes Dave Harrington, a retired welding supplier who had parked his decked-out RV and satellite dish at Chain o' Lakes State Park in northern Illinois.

Officials at campgrounds across the country say an increasing number of campers want to be connected to the outside world while exploring the great outdoors.

Rangers at a campground in the forest along Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore have been getting requests to up the voltage at electrical sites so people can run computers. And in Raymond, Maine, kids at one private campground can use digital cameras to send photos home to their parents.

It's a far cry from the tents, tarps and modest camping vans that filled Chain o' Lakes State Park when park Supt. Ed Rodiek began working there in 1968.

Besides cell phones and computers, he regularly sees everything from air conditioners and washer-dryers to microwaves and TVs. Even satellite dishes have become the norm, especially for RV owners.

"Now you're just not part of the 'in crowd' if you don't have one," Rodiek says.

The trend is causing some hard-core campers, including Gregg Steiner, to grumble.

"I go camping to listen to birds chirping, not to blast a radio or TV or hear a phone ringing," says Stein, who lives in Sherman Oaks. He was aghast at all the gadgets he saw during a recent camping trip to Sequoia National Park.

Some, including Allan Whitescarver of San Francisco, are retreating to more remote campgrounds to get away from the gadgets.

Technology does have its benefits, beyond convenience and comfort. Some campers have used their cell phones to call for help in an emergency. And some say technology can open up opportunities to get outside.

Paul Entin of Lambertville, N.J., says he has taken his laptop and cell phone with him to Acadia National Park in Maine, using a car cigarette lighter as a power source to get work done.

"It takes something away from the true camping experience, but at the same time, I've come to feel grateful to technology," says Entin, who publishes a fitness Web site with his wife. "It's because of technology that we are able to go camping, essentially whenever we please."

With that in mind, some campgrounds are taking note, including Kampgrounds of America Inc., which is encouraging the installation of computer kiosks so campers can check their e-mail.

In fact, Judy Sinkular, co-owner of a KOA campground near Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona, says a recent survey of campers found that computer access was second only to demands for a level camping site.

"People use their cell phones to call us from our pool to have us deliver dinner," she said. "And it's about half a city block away."

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