Opinion

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Like I Was Saying

Generation Camper

Camping is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance as millenials head outdoors in increasing numbers

There are a few types of campers: those who need nothing more than a sleeping bag and tarp to enjoy a weekend outdoors; those who take several hours to set up their campsite and turn it into a tented Taj Mahal; and those who prefer sturdier accommodations, like a cabin or camper to pull into the woods.

Camping is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance as millenials head outdoors in increasing numbers. Millennials now, according to the 2019 North American Camping Report, make up 41 percent of campers nationwide. They’re only followed by Gen Xers at 32 percent.

This upends conventional thinking that it’s mostly retirees touring the country in their RVs. In contrast, America’s younger generation is perceived as disconnected from their peers. They’re gamers and social media addicts and would rather bury their heads in their phones than head outside. Not quite.

Not only are more households camping (about 79 million, an all-time high), but they’re also camping more often. According to the report, the percentage of campers who camp at least three times a year has increased by 72 percent since 2014. And, for the first time, the percentage of new campers who identify as nonwhite outpaced white campers.

So, what gives?

In a recent story from Curbed titled, “One industry millenials aren’t killing: Camping,” the writer points out that the older sector of this generation now have families and 54 percent of them are camping with their kids.

That’s not to say the allure of sharing experiences on Instagram and Facebook isn’t drawing people outside. Last year, we wrote about the impact that a selfie-starved generation is having on Glacier National Park and, in an interview, Superintendent Jeff Mow acknowledged, “It’s less about sharing the experience with all the other people the lake. It’s about getting the photo.”

But the park has also begun adapting to this new generation of explorers. It uses social media to promote education and conservation and to direct visitors to less-trafficked corners of the park during peak season.

Whatever the motivation, the popularity of national parks has exploded over the last five years and, over the same time period, an estimated 7 million new camper households have been added in the U.S., according to the North American Camping Report.

What’s encouraging is the report also shows that in 2018 campers said they were less likely to go online than in previous years and more now say technology detracts from their experience.

“They are putting down their phones and engaging with each other and the outdoors, which I think is a really promising trend to see,” Kampgrounds of America (KOA) CEO Toby O’Rourke told National Parks Traveler. She added, “I don’t see enthusiasm slowing down in the near future.”

I don’t either. Even with all our options in Northwest Montana, many of the popular sites around the region fill up quickly in the summer and camping in Glacier can take weeks or months of planning. That’s because we like to camp, too.

A study released last week by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana shows that 14 percent of residents planned to camp over Memorial Day weekend and 19 percent plan to over Fourth of July.

Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel very far to find some of the best campsites in the country. We just might have to stake out our claims earlier.