Camping out

Camping season is here, and today’s campers have a variety of ways to make their forays into the great outdoors as primitive or comfortable as they want.

Jim Strother, 45, of Paden City, W.Va. said his family, including wife, Tammy, 40, and 17-year-old son Jonathan, love to head into the woods.

“We camp out as much as we can,” Jim said as they sat around a campfire in front of their RV trailer at Leith Run campground in the Wayne National Forest Sunday.

“It’s like a small house on wheels,” he said. “And if it rains you can pack everything inside so it doesn’t get soaked. With a tent, if it leaks you’ll have to hang everything out to dry.”

Tammy said the family has been camping in an RV or trailer for 17 years now.

“Our trailer has a microwave, three-burner stove with an oven, refrigerator, air conditioning, even a bathroom with a shower,” she said.

Jim noted many other amenities are also available on late-model RVs.

“We don’t have it, but you can get RVs with a washer and dryer, a fake electric fireplace, large-screen television, and more,” he said. “Some people even bring along a satellite dish to watch TV.”

Jim said some camping areas also provide wi-fi connectivity for Internet service.

But Jim and Tammy both recalled earlier days of tent camping when they were younger.

“My family started out in tents, packing everything in the back of a little pickup truck, and the kids could sit in the truck bed at that time,” Jim said.

Tammy said her family would pack the tent and other camping necessities inside a small Chevy Vega.

“We slept on the ground in sleeping bags and all bathed in a creek which was also where we played during the camping trip,” she said.

In the campsite next door, Rick and Kathy Wheeler of Pleasant City were planning their Sunday dinner.

“We have a stove inside the RV, but I prefer to cook meals over an open campfire,” Rick, 64, said. “I just think the food tastes better.”

Kathy, 62, said roast beef was on Sunday’s menu, noting the couple was expecting a visit from several grandkids later in the day.

“We use a cast iron pot and just let the meat cook all day over the fire,” she explained. “But you do have to keep the fire going. And we can cook just about anything that way.”

Rick admits campfire cooking takes some practice.

“It can be challenging-I’ve burned a lot of food,” he said.

Like many of their neighboring campers, the Wheeler’s RV has plenty comforts of home, including solar power if they need it.

“I didn’t bring them because we have electrical hookups here, but I have solar panels I can hook up to charge the batteries and provide electricity in more primitive camping areas,” he said. “And this camper is a 2006 model, but it’s almost obsolete. The newer ones have much more.”

Rick noted that many campgrounds provide RV connections for water and sewer service, in addition to electricity.

“Most of those services are usually found at private campgrounds, like KOA facilities,” he said.

The Wheelers also did a lot of tent camping when their two children were young.

“We roughed it, but the kids had a ball, fishing, hiking, canoeing,” Rick said. “We camped at a lot of the old reclaimed strip mining areas. I enjoyed it, but (Kathy) not so much due to the lack of good bathroom facilities.”

There was only one couple tent camping at Leith Run Sunday, Justin Kirk, 26, and Krista Compton, 18, both from Millersburg.

“For me, the only true camping is tent camping-sleeping on the ground and no luxuries,” Kirk said. “When I was younger my grandparents had a camping trailer, but I always slept in a tent.”

Kirk and Compton had erected their dome-shaped tent near the confluence of Leith Run and the Ohio River.

“The tent goes up pretty fast. It took me about five minutes to set it up,” he said. “This is our first time here, and we wanted to catch some fish, so we set up near the river.”

Kirk said the tent has a rainfly cover that sheds rain, and he keeps an extra tarp handy in case of a hard rain.

Compton said they’ve been sleeping on the ground inside the tent, without the aid of air mattresses, and cooking over the campfire.

“I’m used to sleeping on the ground, because my family has horses and we camp at the Holmes County Fairgrounds every year-sometimes in tents,” she said. “But I really prefer tent camping. In my opinion many campers have too much luxury. They don’t have to use or learn any new skills. We come to be near the water and to talk with each other. Too many people don’t really communicate anymore.”

The only piece of technology for Kirk and Compton is their cell phones, although Kirk noted the signals can be pretty sporadic in the hilly terrain along the Ohio River.

Leith Run will participate in National Get Outdoors Day from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 14 at the campground off Ohio 7 about 21 miles north of Marietta, with a host of free activities designed to introduce families to camping and other outdoor experiences.

According to a recent Associated Press report, overnight camping in U.S. national parks and other areas has been declining over the last 15 years, including tent, RV, and backcountry camping.

More than 9.2 million overnight camping stays were recorded in the national parks in 1998 and that number dropped to 8.54 million by 2003.

There were 7.99 million overnight camping stays in 2008, and 7.91 million in 2013.

National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said the decline began in the mid-1990s but began to level out around 2004. He noted the numbers do fluctuate from year to year, however, with some years showing increases.

Studies conducted by the Outdoor Foundation, which promotes outdoor recreation for the outdoor industry, also showed a decline in overnight camping.