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Wilderness? No escape from technology world

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Wilderness? No escape from technology world




By Kate Shatzkin

Baltimore Sun


Posted on Tue, Aug. 09, 2005


THURMONT, Md. At a campground in the quiet of the Catoctin Mountains, 11-year-old Michaela Downing rode bikes with her friends and sat with her grandmother under a canopy of tall trees, with a 78-foot waterfall and glistening lake just a short walk away.


But after dinner, instead of telling ghost stories around the campfire or working on crafts as she did when she was younger, Michaela was hoping for screen time with Shrek, Polly Pocket and SpongeBob SquarePants.


I might play here more than I play at home, said the girl, clad in a SpongeBob T-shirt and pajama pants, of the Game Boy she didnt want to leave home without.


The wilderness might seem like the last place youd find video games, computers and DVDs, but todays young people are used to having electronic media virtually everywhere they go. And campground operators, eager to stop their pool of visitors from shrinking, are struggling with how and whether to accommodate them.


To attract visitors, state parks in California, Texas and Michigan are offering wireless Internet access, and Col. Rick Barton, superintendent of Marylands 49 state parks, says hes exploring the idea.


My first reaction was: Never, Barton said. These places are meant to be a getaway.


But then its, Come on, Rick, people have cell phones. People have gadgets, he said. People have motor homes. They have TV.


Car camping outings pitching a tent or pop-up with a vehicle nearby fell nearly 28 percent between 1998 and 2004, from 338 million to 245 million, according to a recent study by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, which represents retailers and non-profit groups. Backpacking declined 33 percent, from 98 million outings to 66 million. The National Park Service recently reported drops in visitation as well.


Kids arent the only ones who want the comforts of home on camping trips. Theyre often traveling with Internet-savvy parents and grandparents baby boomers who often prefer to camp in recreational vehicles loaded with amenities.


If people can easily reach the Web while roughing it, Barton says, maybe theyll be more willing to camp and to stay an extra day or two.


Maybe theyll telecommute from their campsite, he said.


Yogi Bears Jellystone Camp Resort, a private campground in Williamsport that has already gone wireless, is looking for ways to use that access to let kids use more game systems in cabins, resort owner Ron Vitkun said.


Michael Lee, a spokesman for the Outdoor Industry Foundation, said his group is exploring ways to use technology to hook kids on camping. One example is geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunt that uses hand-held Global Positioning System devices.


Kids who are used to interfacing with a screen can be doing that in the woods, he said.


At Cunningham Falls Houck Area campground, where the conditions are still rustic, Geoff and Valerie Price brought a television with built-in VCR. They didnt think daughter Haylee, 2 1/2 , could survive in the woods without Barney.


I was in Boy Scouts for many years, and we didnt have the TVs, her father said. But the little ones, they like it.


A few campsites away, Alex Ashton, 12, had brought a portable PlayStation and several movies on his camping trip with family friends. The Rosedale boy promised the game player was for just in case it rains, and Im stuck in a tent or that sort of thing.


Michaela Downing said she rarely gets to play her video games during the school year. So during the summer high camping season she wants to take advantage of the relaxed rules.


And sometimes, after all that outdoor activity, Michaela needs a break. Bicycling, for example, is really tiring, she said.


Some parents find it easier to tell the kids to leave their gadgets at home.


For two days, they can live without it, said Rene Lyons of Linthicum, as her husband started dinner at their campsite in the Catoctins.


Her daughter, Alex, 8, had brought paper dolls to amuse herself. With her 5-year-old brother, Josh, she played board games. Even without electronic entertainment, the kids were having enough fun on their first camping trip to stay up until midnight, Lyons said.

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I think that there's a balance somewhere that can allow kids to bring along their technology while still enjoying the outdoors. I'm not sure exactly where to draw the line, myself. When you think of outdoor activities, you will generally think of hiking, fishing, climbing, etc. But, I like to take along a book or 2 and just sit in the shade and enjoy them. I don't see much of a distance for a kid to sit in the shade and play with his gameboy, really.


Yes, there are a lot of folks who will say, "well, you can't do this, and you can't do that" while you're camping, but who's to say? Does every campout have to be a simulation of outdoor living in the 1850's? No, I don't think so. Now, on a Scout campout, the agenda for the outing should be the priority, but, while my own troop doesn't allow electronics on outings, I'm wondering if there's any real harm in it, when kept in balance with other activities.


Just thinking out loud.

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I agree.


I allow my son to take along his Gameboy on camping trips and we have a portable DVD player and a TV-VCR in the Suburban so he can watch movies along the way.


But I draw the line at taking any electronics into the campsite -- everything must stay in the car / truck.


We do this not so much to focus activity away from technology, but because its so easy to lose stuff in the woods!

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Isn't that little DVD player in the van on a long drive a real life saver?


That might be one of the "Parent's 7 Wonders of the Modern World" :)


Of course, I have a hard time watching and driving at the same time :)

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We just got back from a camping/cabining vacation.


A few years ago, I would have been in the 'no tech' or 'minimal tech' camp (pun, ha!), but this year we took the iPod, wireless laptop with DVD, PDAs, and cell phones.


The biggest boon was something to do on the long drive up and back, but even in camp I noticed that, judiciously used, the electronics were helpful.


We even looked for wifi access in towns to do some quick surfing (our sites did not have this benefit!)


Electronics were used for:

- Playing soft music to aid sleep (covering the unfamiliar noises early in the trip)

- Playing games/watching DVDs, usually in the after supper period when we were in a 'lazing'' mood.

- Keeping journals and downloading photos. One of the kids made a quickie presentation of each day. Nice way to recap the daily events!

- Electronic versions of game, books, maps, etc. We usually haul a TON of this stuff, but the electronic versions were nice and light!

- Guides- we downloaded a bunch of maps, attractions data, recipies, bird lists, etc. to refer to. it was great having so much data packaged so conveniently!

- Walkie-talkies. Cell phones are a pain, but they make great walkie talkies when in range. Its also nice to know you can phone home or for help easily.




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Full disclosure - I take along my lap top computer during my full week vacation/camping trips and use it about 1/2 hour per day to download and sort the days photos from my digital camera - after that, its back to the car (and I use a converter to recharge the lap tops batteries if needed while driving).


On weekends, and I try to camp as many weekends as I can, the only electronics that comes with me (other than the aforementioned digital camera) is my cell phone which I leave off and in the car - I camp to escape from the technologic world, not to keep myself surrounded by it.


TV's, DVD's, I-pods, WiFi in a campground? May as well camp in the backyard, or set up a tent in the living room. Its bad enough to watch people pull in to a campground in a big RV that they never leave, running a generator and air conditioner all day and into the night while they pretend to "camp" - now we have people setting up TV's, and stereo systems in their campsites because they just can't live without seeing Sponge Bob Square Pants one more time, or can't make it one night without hearing Stairway to Heaven.


Try camping in a Wisconsin State Park in mid-August when the Packers are playing a televised pre-season game on a Saturday night - no matter where you go, you'll know the score of the game.


Last year, I was searching the trees for a calling Barred Owl near my campsite - which I found - people in the campsite nearest the owl were amazed that there was an owl nearly above their heads and they never even heard it - of course they didn't hear it, they were busy watching television!


Keep the electronics at home where they belong - the kids can survive (really!) for a weekend without Barney and Game Boy. Do your neighbors a favor (you know, those of us in the neighboring campsite, which is probably no further away from you than the bedroom in your home is from the living room in your home)and help create the quiet, restful zone we have come to find.



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Hey! We were in Wild River State Park in MN in late July/early Aug- right across the river! Cool!


Yet... even with our trunk full of electronics, I managed to find that barred owl as well (albeit a year later!), along with a wonderful chorus of (what else?) chorus frogs and such.


I don't think the difference between you and the guy watching TV is the electronics, I think it is the love of nature... and possibly your differing interpretations of 'roughing it'.

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When I was a teen, my father forbad me to take my walkman along on family outings because according to him, I'm supposed to pay attention to what's going on around me and socialize with my family. I think that's the reason why most camps ban electronic devices. Camps that ban electronic devices do so because they want you to pay attention to the surroundings of the camp and socialize with others at camp. I, however, think that electronic devices should be allowed at camp because when you need some alone time from the group, you may want to listen to your favorite music. Also, if the group agrees on a particular type of music, e.g., easy listening, big band, etc., they can listen to music while cooking and eating. When hiking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing, on the other hand, you ought to pay attention to your surroundings, not tune out with your walkman.

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As for kids and electronics- I'd rather take a kid with electronics and have a willing participant than take one without and have a sullen heap.


I can ALWAYS work on them at the campsite to encourage them to tune into nature instead- if they are willing to work with me rather than smarling at me.


If we are going to use the old '60's' standards of camping (no music, no electronics), does this also mean we are going back to good old fashioned canvas packs and tents, flannel bags, and so on as well? If we are picking and choosing which technology applies today, WHO is the ultimate judge of what can and cannot be used?

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