After the year I refer to as the Great Pause, like many of you, I’m feeling a bit of cabin fever. I’d like to travel again, but I’m leery of crowds and shared spaces like hotel lobbies and airplanes.
Apparently, I’m not alone. A travel survey conducted by Abacus Data highlights the impact of COVID-19 on American travel for 2021, with RVing and camping ranked as the safest travel options.
The survey also highlighted that 94 percent of Americans mentioned “doing something safe” as a top priority for their vacation plans.
As a result, national parks are setting monthly visitation records. The National Park Service suggests travelers create a plan, be flexible and, perhaps most important, pack their patience.
“It’s gonna be a challenging year for all of our staff,” a park ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park said in a recent interview with Today. “With this level of visitation, we simply can’t do it on our own. Each person coming to the Smokies has to take some responsibility for their trash and their behavior so that we can take care of this place they’re coming to enjoy.”
For those of you pitching a tent or outfitting your rigs this summer, include a camping code of conduct by following this refresher on camp courtesies.
- Leave word: Inform a friend or relative of your destination and timeline.
- Setting up camp: Camp in designated areas and available sites, and respect the boundaries of campsites and communal space. While stopping to read the site map or searching on foot for the perfect site, turn off your engine. When arriving after quiet hours, set up the minimum necessary for the night as stealthily as possible.
- Tread lightly: Be mindful of the vegetation on the perimeter of your campsite.
- Keeping up appearances: Between coolers, chairs, tents and frying pans, campsites hold an enormous amount of gear. Keep your site tidy by containing and securing your personal effects, especially if you will be out all day. Wash your dishes (but never in the bathrooms), follow food storage guidelines by not leaving out food and scraps, which attract ants and other, larger, furry appetites.
- When nature calls: Stepping on sheets of abandoned toilet paper will leave you stinking mad. Leave no trace when using the loo, and if “number 2” calls, take a number of steps away from campsites.
- Pet peeves: Don’t “let the dogs out” until they have been thoroughly socialized and trained at home. Observe guidelines at each park or camp and become a BARK Ranger at the national parks. Never let your pet and wildlife mix. As with humans, leave no trace when nature calls.
- Dark skies: Keep lights shielded and pointing down. Bright light detracts from the night sky and can shine into a neighboring campsite.
- Playing with fire: Learn what type of fire, if any, is permitted at your site, and don’t leave it unattended. Where applicable, consider reusing an existing fire pit to minimize your impact. Aluminum, glass and styrofoam should not be burned. Thoroughly extinguish your fire. Consider leaving firewood for the next campers as a welcome surprise.
- Love thy neighbor: Never cut through someone else’s campsite, even if it means walking out of your way. Be aware of how your voice and music carry. If neighbors look like they are struggling to set up a tent, see if you can help. Observe quiet hours and, if your crew is the type to party till sunrise, pick a camp setting that meets those needs.
- Litter bugs: Pack it in, pack it out. Bring your own garbage bags and allow room in your vehicle to store them until they can be properly disposed of. When departing, wipe down picnic tables of crumbs, empty grills and fire pits of any food remnants or materials that did not burn, and pick up every tiny piece of foreign material. The general rule should be to leave the site in better condition than you found it.
- “Adopt the pace of nature,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: The point of visiting the national parks and campsites is to be at one with the great outdoors. Tread lightly by observing rules about wildlife viewing, staying on designated trails and leaving only footsteps when you go. Take no souvenirs, only pictures.
Observing commonsense written and unwritten rules makes everyone a happy camper.