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High-tech gadgets changing the way many people camp

Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2000

SPRING GROVE, Ill. (AP) --So much for getting away from it all.

Satellite dishes, computers, cell phones and other high-tech gadgets are becoming the norm at many campgrounds where roughing it means having to pay roaming charges to call home.

''My wife is roughing it now,'' jokes Dave Harrington, a retired welding supplier who parked his decked-out RV and satellite dish at Chain o' Lakes State Park in northern Illinois recently.

But it's not just retirees who are going high-tech. Officials at campgrounds across the country say an increasing number of campers want to be connected to the outside world while exploring the great outdoors.

Rangers at a campground nestled in the forest along Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore say they've been getting requests to boost the voltage at electrical sites so people can run their computers.

And in Raymond, Maine, kids at one private campground are able to use digital cameras to send photos home to their parents.

It's a far cry from the tents, tarps and modest camping vans that filled Chain o' Lakes State Park when park superintendent Ed Rodiek began working there in 1968.

Besides cell phones and computers, he regularly sees everything from air conditioners and washer-dryers to microwaves and TVs. Even satellite dishes have become the norm, especially for RV owners.

''Now you're just not part of the in crowd if you don't have one,'' Rodiek says, chuckling.

The trend is causing some hard-core campers, including Gregg Steiner, to grumble.

''I go camping to listen to birds chirping, not to blast a radio or TV or hear a phone ringing,'' says Steiner, a wilderness camper from Sherman Oaks, Calif., who was aghast at all the gadgets he saw during a recent camping trip to Sequoia National Park.

Some, including San Franciscan Allan Whitescarver, are retreating to more remote National Forest campgrounds to get away from gadgets.

Still others say technology does have its benefits, beyond convenience and comfort. For one, some campers have used their cell phones to call for help in an emergency. And some say technology can open opportunities to get outside that wouldn't normally be there.

Paul Entin, an Internet publisher from Lambertville, N.J., says he's taken his laptop and cell phone with him to Acadia National Park in Maine, using a car cigarette lighter as a power source to get work done.

''It takes something away from the true camping experience but at the same time, I've come to feel grateful to technology,'' says Entin, who publishes a fitness Web site with his wife. ''It's because of technology that we are able to go camping, essentially whenever we please.''

With that in mind, some campgrounds are taking note, including Kampgrounds of America, which is encouraging its franchisers to install computer kiosks so campers can check their e-mail.

In fact, Judy Sinkular, co-owner of a KOA campground near Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona, says a recent survey of campers found that computer access was second only to demands for a level camping site.

Sure, she says, there are campers who hide away in the campground's back field to get away from it all. But most don't seem to mind at all.

''People use their cell phones to call us from our pool to have us deliver dinner,'' Sinkular says. ''And it's about half a city block away.''

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On the Net: http://www.us-national-parks.net/



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