Camping: Society in Miniature


Mr. Gotz, who is retired as Manager of Engineering at the General Electric Company, resides in Arlington, Massachusetts.

My wife and I are inveterate campers. We enjoy the pleasures of traveling, . outdoor living, and seeing the country at a relatively low cost.

Campgrounds fall into two major categories-those operated by the state or federal government and those privately owned. Essentially, they offer the same basic services—camping sites, toilet facilities, and water. In addition, some campgrounds offer such services as electricity, laundries, stores, entertainment, and recreational facilities. Each campground, either state or private, offers a unique mix of facilities.

A campground, in a sense, is a miniature society. Campers generally are strangers, have a wide range of ages, and come from different backgrounds. They live within sight and sound of each other. They share basic necessities such as toilets, water, and other camp facilities. Perhaps even more so than in normal living, a fundamental consideration of one’s fellowmen is essential if the campground is to function in a satisfactory manner.

It is in this area that there is a primary difference between state and private campgrounds. In a private campground, reasonable behavior is generally observed. People know that if they present serious behavior problems to their neighbors and to the campground operator, the police will be called. And it is precisely this feature that attracts many people to a private campground the prospect of enjoying camping without rowdiness, petty theft, and excessive drinking in the area. The private campground operator realizes that to make a profit he must run a tight ship. As in any business, he must satisfy the customer.

State campgrounds, on the other hand, can and often do have local scenes of behavior abhorrent to most people. Some campers, albeit a very few, regard it as their right to behave in any manner they choose. And if you unfortunately are their neighbor, why that’s your problem. The staff of most state campgrounds generally make little effort to enforce any type of campground discipline. Complaints usually go unresolved and remain unanswered. The driving force to satisfy customers—the profit motive—is missing.

The maintenance of the physical plant of campgrounds is another area of vast differences. In private campgrounds toilets flush, hot water faucets produce hot water, and showers work. The facilities are reasonably clean and neat. The stores have adequate supplies. Unfortunately, in state campgrounds the same statements cannot be made across the board. Depending on the local area and the staff, the condition of the facilities ranges from excellent to awful.

There is a vast difference in grounds maintenance. Private campgrounds operators properly maintain the grounds and the landscape. Their campers respect the environs and generally refrain from littering and destroying the shrubbery. And, here again, in the state campgrounds the opposite is too often true, reflecting the general lack of camp discipline.

The daily fee for the state campgrounds ranges from $6-$10, for the private campgrounds from $10-$14. The private operator has all the normal business expenses such as taxes, depreciation, wages, advertising, and so on. And he still must make a profit. The state campgrounds don’t have to make a profit and have few of the normal business expenses. If the value received from the private campgrounds is measured against that from state campgrounds, it is surprising the state’s fee is so high.

In the interests of fairness and even-handed reporting, I must point out all state campgrounds are not bad, nor are all private campgrounds good. Each campground must be evaluated in its own right. But, over the long haul and years of camping, my wife and I have found that private campgrounds offer by far the more pleasant experience.

The reasons for this are very basic. When an enterprise is not driven by the need to be profitable, it tends to become inefficient and unproductive. If management does not feel the need to compete, few attempts will be made to satisfy consumers. Clearly, the public would gain if the state and federal governments were to turn campground management over to private enterprise.


January 1989

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