Struggling economy leads to increase in camping

By Katherine Klingseis,

Children splashed in the water as an RV drove by and parked in 1 of 95 campsites located at Ledges State Park.

“Our campground is pretty much full every weekend from mid-May to mid-October,” said park ranger Mark Plymale. “Our electric sites fill up sometimes as early as Thursday night.”

In the summertime, millions of people around the world flock to campgrounds. Near Ames, there are many different campsites to choose from.

Ledges, for example, is located 15 miles west of Ames. The park has 40 electric, 42 non-electric and 12 hike-in campsites. The park also has modern restrooms and showers, a playground and a trailer dump station.

“The primary thing here for daily activity is hiking the trails,” Plymale said. “Most people, if they do leave their campsite, or day users, spend their time down in the canyon, and kids play in the creek.”

The beauty of the canyons and bluffs at Ledges has attracted millions of visitors over the years. Almost a century after it first became a state park, Ledges still remains one of central Iowa‘s biggest attractions.

“Last year was a record year for the Ledges with more than 25,000-guest days [number of visitors multiplied by the number of nights they stayed]” Plymale said. “On average, I would say that we are usually between 21,000 and 23,000.”

Campgrounds around the nation have seen an increase in their number of guests. Plymale contributes this increase to the poor health of the nation’s economy.

“People are staying closer to home. They’re not taking their out-of-state vacations like they normally did in the past,” Plymale said.

Since more people are going camping, the campgrounds and their employees must deal with overcrowding.

“We have had to turn some people away,” said Amber Tiarks, program support coordinator for Story County Conservation. “If you want a campsite, I would recommend getting to the campground pretty early.”

Story County Conservation owns and manages Hickory Grove Park, located about 13 miles east of Ames. It is the largest and most popular of the conservation board’s parks. In its 445-acre expanse, the park contains a 98-acre lake, 42 modern campsites, 10 primitive campsites, boat rentals, hiking trails and two enclosed lodges with fireplaces.

“We had more than 11,000 guests last year,” Tiarks said. “I think a lot of people go camping because it’s like a little vacation that is closer to home, and I think they also like being outdoors and experiencing the fresh air.”

Summer has just begun, and many people are already swarming to campgrounds. With an increase in the number of campers, park employees emphasize the importance of being courteous to other campers.

“The one thing I would stress at a busy campground that we have to contend with a lot, is just a simple reminder to campers to remember that you aren’t the only ones at the campground,” Plymale said. “Don’t be loud and remember to respect others.”

(Posted originally on on June 15, 2010)

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