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Evolution of camping shows Americans want to be closer to nature, but not too close

Nov 28, 2016

 

Michigan outdoors and camping: the two are practically synonymous.

We’ve got something like 13,500 campsites in Michigan, more than any other state.

But how much are we really communing with nature when we camp when we hook up to electricity, boot up the wi-fi and set out our folding chairs under the awning?

Architect Martin Hogue has spent a lot of time exploring just what camping really means in 2016. His exhibit 925,000 Campsites: The Commodification of an American Experience is now running through the end of the year at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield.

“Although we have a great desire to be in the outdoors, we also have a desire not to leave behind too much of the comforts that we have in our modern homes,” Hogue told us.

According to Hogue, early recreational camping in America was the province of very wealthy men attracted by the rejuvenating prospects of the outdoors.

These men were not skilled in outdoor survival, however, and relied on teams of local men to take care of duties like preparing food and maintaining the campsite.

In some ways, Hogue told us camping hasn’t changed all that much. We’re still drawn to the outdoors, and few of us are really qualified to grab a tent and head out to the woods on our own. But instead of a team of outdoorsmen, he said, we can now rely on campgrounds to meet our outdoor survival needs and make the camping experience more comfortable.

“It’s OK to look for that rustic experience, but maybe at the same time you’re not completely willing to leave those modern comforts behind,” he said. “There’s the presumption that the experience is fairly rustic, and at the same time you have access to water, electricity and all kinds of services.”

Without access to these comforts, Hogue said most people would find life in the outdoors would be “basically impossible.”

Hogue added that as camping’s popularity has risen, campgrounds have also served to protect nature by containing human influence.

“The kind of model of the campground is as much to spare nature from human action as it is to protect campers from nature,” he said. “The campground is really a way to organize, create a kind of hierarchy between the campsites themselves, the cars and the sort of negative environmental impacts that they might have on the landscape.”

Listen to our conversation above for more.

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