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Sleep on the Cheap

Category: Camping
Source: The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY
Publish Date: Sunday, May 4, 2008
Summary: You can consider a campground a 5 billion-star resort.

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By Gary Garth

TRIGG COUNTY, Ky — The campground at Lake Barkley State Resort Park was sprinkled with a few tents and a handful of recreational vehicles and travel trailers.

This will change soon.

"As soon as school lets out, it really picks up a lot," said Jenny Howard, the park naturalist and recreation supervisor at Barkley, the largest state park in Kentucky and generally considered the crown jewel of the system. "And by mid-June (the campground) will be packed, especially on weekends, until around mid-August."

Camping is always a popular summertime activity here and at many other state, federal and private sites across Kentucky. And with the prospect of $4-per-gallon gasoline and other costs forcing many families to rethink their travel plans, Howard won't be surprised if more people than ever head to the woods for some quality, affordable vacation time.

"Camping is cheaper than a hotel," she said. "You can make your own food, and there's hiking, fishing, wildlife watching and lots of other things to do."

Howard, who grew up in a family of five in the Fort Knox/Elizabethtown area, is not just spouting the company line. She saw much of the country from a tent.

"(Camping) is probably why I am who I am because of our family vacations," she said. "We were a family that didn't have a lot of money to go and stay in a hotel with a pool every night, but still my parents wanted to get out and about and see historic sites and go to the beach and have those experiences. So we would camp.

"My favorite and most memorable trip was a two-week trip to the Smokies and out to the (East) coast, then up to (Washington) D.C. and back home. All camping. It was great fun."

For most park visitors, camping isn't quite the roughing-it experience it once was. Most of the campsites at Barkley and other Kentucky parks have water and electric hookups, with restrooms and bathing facilities nearby. Campers often arrive in RVs loaded with televisions, DVD players, fans and even air conditioners.

Still, Howard estimated that at least 40 percent of Barkley's campground visitors pitch tents.

"A lot of times young couples or young families will tent camp," she said. "Senior citizens and baby boomers seem to most often be RV campers."

Ken Anderson and his wife, Ellen, were on their way home to Golden Valley, Minn., from Florida when they spent the night in the Barkley campground last week. It was their first visit to the park, which they picked for its close proximity to the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. They planned to visit the LBL's elk and bison prairie before continuing their trek northward with their dog, Sammy.

"We try to stop at state park campgrounds or Corps of Engineer facilities," Ken Anderson said.

"They seem to be better and a little nicer than some of the other places," his wife said. "And there are a lot more places for hiking."

The Andersons are both retired civil engineers, and they put that expertise to work in designing their camping rig, an ingenious contraption that incorporates a pull-out tent from the camper shell on their 1994 Toyota pickup.

"We'll usually camp every night," Ellen Anderson said. "And we'll camp the rest of the way home."

Howard said novice campers need not be intimidated by the idea of sleeping in the woods under the stars.

"State park campgrounds are, in a way, like civilized wilderness," said Howard, who spent three years in Central Africa with the Peace Corps before completing work on her master's degree in environmental education. "There's usually a camp host on site. They can help with questions or tell you where to go for help. And we have three full-time park rangers on patrol."

Reservations are available at all Kentucky state campgrounds and many federal facilities.

"We have used the reservation system," Ellen Anderson said. "We travel with a laptop and can search ahead for camping spots."

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