- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - Hipsters have a name for it: They call it glamorous camping or “glamping.”

Whether it’s baby boomers whose lumbars won’t abide sleeping bags on the ground anymore, or millenials who think it’s unreasonable and even dangerous to be out in the woods without access to the Internet, camping has gone upscale. That canvas pup tent in the attic might as well stay there. That’s not what camping in 2014 typically looks like.

John and Carol Crowe, of Milwaukee, might not consider the kind of camping they do “glamorous.” But it’s not slumming either. The 24-foot motor home they bought in 2000 began to feel a little small. So they bought a 34-footer.

“After about five or six years, we were looking for something bigger,” Carol said recently, while the couple was enjoying the Mississippi River at the Grant River Recreation Area campground south of Potosi.

John grew up in the Seattle area and was a Boy Scout, so he knows his way around a pup tent.

“Camping is in my blood, and family vacations were inexpensive camping,” he told the Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/1idiT9s).

But with age comes a certain affinity for some creature comforts. For those who want the great outdoors, but still want their air conditioning, the recreational vehicle fills that bill.

Stanley and Bonnie Venden, of Madison, Wisconsin, also were relaxing at the Potosi-area campground. “We’ve evolved from four kids and a tent to this,” said Bonnie, motioning toward their large, comfortable and well-equipped motor home.

The Crowes and the Vendens are part of a growing trend in the U.S.

A record 9 million RVs are on roads across the country, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. Shipments of RVs (motor homes, travel trailers, sport utility RVs, truck campers and folding camping trailers) climbed by 13 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which complete data is available.

The ever-growing fleet of RVs, many with a full complement of modern conveniences, also is representative of another trend, according to some outdoor enthusiasts. The latest technology has infiltrated campgrounds; for many, a camping trip is no longer about roughing it.

“I think back in the days, in the tents, there was more family time,” said Cliff Payne, 60, operator of Great River Road RV Campground in Guttenberg, Iowa.

Thirty years ago, he and his wife, Carmen, used to camp with their four children in a 1969 Shasta trailer that slept six or in tents.

“Now, we’re losing a little bit of that family time now to the new stuff: the smartphones and Internet,” he said. “It’s not as close-knit and ‘roughing it’ as it used to be.”

Kurt Kramer, a park ranger for the Dubuque County Conservation Board, recalls the “old” days, when, as a Boy Scout and an undergrad at Upper Iowa University, he often went tent camping.

“If I was lucky. I’d have a fire ring, a picnic table and a level site for the tent,” he said. “I had fun, to be quite honest. You were more mobile and could camp in a lot more places.”

Their RV allows the Crowes to bring the fun with them. Carol offers her take on the evolution of camping.

“You want to be up, off the ground, and if it rains, you don’t have to worry about it,” she said.

John added: “With her off the ground, she’s a happy camper. Advances in technology have allowed the evolution of numerous amenities into all units.”

Nowhere are those advances more apparent than at Couler Valley RV in Dubuque, the largest RV retailer in the tri-state area.

“Campers in general have evolved,” said owner Doug Gauer. “When we first started selling campers, air conditioning was an option; most times, people didn’t want it.

“Now, it’s more creature comforts - easier to put up, easier to use and people like being outside, biking and hiking.”

The market now features more slide-out motorhomes that offer amenities like additional sleeping capacity and dual bathrooms. Some even feature fireplaces - albeit electric ones.

Kym Werner, manager of Palace Campground in Galena, Illinois, sees that firsthand.

“A lot of these new units are easily leveled by a simple push of a button, as well as the slides coming out automatically,” Werner said.

Wayne Buchholtz, Mines of Spain State Recreation Area park ranger, marvels at the evolution.

“From two-person tents to an RV you could live in, that costs more than a house - furniture, including recliners, if you want it,” he said.

He fondly remembers his parents building a homemade camper off of an old car. It had wooden sides and a canvas top, and it folded down.

The evolution is not just limited to many campers.

Many campgrounds have undergone work in response to changing expectations of visitors, said Buchholtz. One example is electrical units on site, which once was a luxury but now is viewed as a necessity at many campgrounds.

Gauer agrees.

“The campgrounds have evolved. They’re setting up for more permanent residency,” he said. “You do see people with these very, very big units - they stay more stationary during the summer months.”

The Dubuque County Conservation Board oversees more than 2,200 acres of parks, preserves and recreation areas, including camping areas.

“I used to be horrified that people would take computers and electronic devices camping,” said Brian Preston, conservation board executive director. “Now, I think if that’s what it takes to get them camping, then it’s our job to get them to enjoy the outdoors.”

Adds Kramer: “For a long time, we fought the technology. We fought against Wi-Fi. We wanted to get people outdoors and away from that. But people won’t come if we don’t have that.”

Bret Streckwald doesn’t think the basics of camping have changed all that much over the past three decades. An Army Corps of Engineers natural resource specialist and park ranger, Streckwald points out the constants he has seen in his 29 years in the Corps of Engineers recreation/resource management program.

“Yes, the RVs have gotten considerably larger, but I think one thing that remains a constant is younger persons and families with less wealth begin with tent camping or a pop-up camper and progress to larger RV units, if or as they can afford it,” he said. “But you will always have some hard-core tent campers at every age.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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