Tight Economy Sends Families to Campgrounds

Four-dollar-a-gallon gas isn't stopping some parents from taking their kids on vacation this summer. But it is changing where they go and how they travel. As WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness reports, frugal families are flocking to the state's campgrounds.

TONESS: Nearly every year the Weavers visit Six Flags New England in Agawam, near Springfield. They used to stay in a hotel, but this year they're pitching tent.

LISA WEAVER: I was like, "You know what? I'm not going to spend $150 for a hotel when you can get this for 38 bucks!"

TONESS: Lisa Weaver is a secretary, and her husband Don is a mechanic. They say they shop around their New Hampshire town for the lowest gas prices and try to minimize their driving, since it costs more than 60 dollars to fill their Dodge intrepid. Food prices and the overall uncertainty of the economy worry them, so they're taking their two teen-aged kids on a cheap vacation this year.

SOUND: Chirping birds

TONESS: That's how they ended up at Sodom Mountain Campground in Southwick. The private RV park is nestled at the bottom of a wooded hill tucked between cornfields and farmhouses along the Massachusetts-Connecticut border. It feels like camp for families, with bingo, shuffleboard, and a swimming pool.

But it is still camping, and the Weavers haven't done that in a while. Although camping was Lisa Weaver's idea, it hasn't been easy. And she was freaked out about a visitor to her campsite the night before.

LISA WEAVER: If I would have been out here with the skunk, I would have died. I would have gotten in the car, and said, "where's the Sheraton?"

TONESS: To make matters worse, Lisa's husband forgot some essential camping supplies, like the stakes for their 4-room tent.

DON WEAVER: (Laughing)...I could'a sworn they were all there!

TONESS: So the Weavers crammed into a one-room tent, without a rain-fly.
Thirteen year-old Miranda slept under a hole in the ceiling of the tent.

MIRANDA WEAVER: I woke up with wet sleeves, wet sweatshirt, we pillow, wet hair, wet sleeping bag, wet everything. But they woke up dry because their side was perfectly fine. I was the one that got soaked!

TONESS: The Weavers weren't the only ones here to get caught in the rain. The campground owner says she's seeing lots of families try camping now that their vacation budgets are smaller, and sometimes they're ill-prepared. Nationwide, campground owners say tent-camping is up 10% since last year. The most surprising trend is that people are camping so close to home.

SOUND: Rumbling through a cooler with ice

VOICE: "Daddy's looking for the hot dogs... I don't know where the hotdogs are! You can find them!"

TONESS: Kathy and Mike Bourassa and their three kids are only 30 minutes from their home in Springfield.

MIKE BOURASSA: We used to go away to New Hampshire, we used to go to Storyland. But we couldn't afford it because gas is so expensive.

KATHY BOURASSA: It's a really cute little park, too. But the kids have been twice, so it's OK. But maybe next year.

TONESS: Mike Bourassa is an electrician and Kathy is a bartender. Even though Mike just got a big raise, the Bourassas have lowered their expectations for the summer.

MIKE BOURASSA: It's going to cost us, you know, probably $2,000 to heat our house. We haven't been using our air conditioners because it's too expensive.

TONESS: That also means no Six Flags and no visit to the kids' grandparents in South Carolina.

MIKE BOURASSA: So we have to kind of stay by here and....
KATHY BOURASSA: Enjoy nature.
MIKE BOURASSA: That's right, enjoy nature!
KATHY BOURASSA: Well, the rain today was a little too much for me. I had a little breakdown. But I got over it. I started screaming and said that I wanted to go home!

TONESS: But the Bourassas say there is an upside to camping, and that's getting their kids away from the television.

The same is true for the Weavers, the family from New Hampshire. They are sitting around their campfire roasting marshmallows. The kids have such long sticks they don't even have to get up from their reclining chairs. Lisa says she doesn't care how many marshmallows they eat.

LISA WEAVER: They're both here, that's, that's half the battle. A 16 year-old who'd rather be on a Game Boy or the Internet or the mp3 player or the cell phone. And the 13-year-old would rather be I-M-ing all her friends.

KEVEN WEAVER: I'm going to bed.

TONESS: Suddenly, Lisa's 16-year-old, Keven, announces it's time for bed. And that he's sleeping in the car. He says the tent is too wet and too crowded.

LISA WEAVER: Alright, good night, love you.

TONESS: Keven is relieved to hear they're going home tomorrow--back to his television, and bed. As for next year's family vacation, sleeping in a tent may not be at the top of the list. But that choice might again depend on the economy.

For WBUR, I'm Bianca Vazquez Toness

This program aired on July 11, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.


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