Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Values, Behavior, and Conflict in Modern Camping Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Values, Behavior, and Conflict in Modern Camping Culture

Article excerpt


1 he meaning and organization of recreational activities are basic questions in the study of leisure. In recent years, attention has increasingly been focused on the meaning of camping as one form of outdoor recreation (Burch 1965, Moncrief 1970, Hendee and Campbell 1969). Camping is frequently thought of as a relatively unregulated form of recreation carried out in the isolation of the natural environment. However, most camping takes place in large, intensively developed campgrounds which are highly organized and supervised. Such campgrounds reflect complex social systems involving interaction of several groups, with one of the most important between campers and recreation managers (Hendee and Harris 1970).

This paper explores the notion that there are differences in the camping orientation of users and managers in intensively developed campgrounds. These differences may be attributed to the social goals and urban behavior patterns of campers compared to the more traditional, natural environment-oriented expectations for camping behavior held by recreation managers. Such a disparity may produce disagreements about the appropriateness of certain camping activities and the legitimacy of campground rules and lead to misunderstandings about campground policy. We further propose that these conditions result from the evolutionary change in predominant camping styles and the development of separate camping cultures favoring developed versus primitive areas.

In the following we present: 1) a discussion of certain changes that we feel have occurred in recreation user populations and in the organization of public campgrounds; 2) data on campers' and managers' attitudes toward camping experiences in highly developed areas and campground behavior problems; and 3) some further implications of the social process we see operating and a strategy recommended to avert problems inherent in continued change in the camping scene. Some of the ideas expressed are not easily tested; and although we do present data, many of the ideas are speculative, calling for discussion and further research.

Changes in Camping Patterns

Traditionally, camping has been valued as an opportunity to isolate one-self, to experience the primitive attractions of the natural environment, and to temporarily escape the complexities of urban life. These traditional camping values may still apply to some degree, but conditions in modern public campgrounds have changed since Americans first began to camp for pleasure. Many campgrounds, once primitive and small, are now large and intensively developed with water systems, flush toilets, paved roads, increased supervision, and special facilities for trailers that now house nearly half of all campers. The tenting equipment available to yesterday's camper was crude and provided little isolation from harsher aspects of the natural environment. In contrast, today's camper can insulate himself from the natural environment to almost any desired degree with modern fabric or aluminum "pickup campers" and trailers. Campers are no longer required to forfeit many comforts of the urban environment to enjoy outdoor recreation. Equally important, the range of available camping behaviors, once limited by primitive conditions, has increased. Activities formerly possible only in more urban environments are now carried out routinely in modern campgrounds.

All these changes have expanded the appeal of camping to a more diverse group of people and coupled with continued population growth and increased leisure time, have produced a larger and more varied camping population. The growth of the camping population has led, in turn, to an increase in such problems as crowding, increased contact between recreationists, and competition for scarce facilities.

Changes in the size and character of the outdoor recreation population have, in turn, led to changes in campground organization. For example, many modern, intensively developed campgrounds have evolved from small, informally established camps in naturally attractive locations. …

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