State program teaches environmentally sound camping
Bad campers: To find the bad camping practices, go to the image below and click away ...
Rose Fuge, environmental educator with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, demonstrates environmentally friendly camping techniques at Ohiopyle State Park.
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Each weekend, in campgrounds across the state, campers nail up clothes lines, tarps and lanterns on live trees, cut or strip branches from those trees to feed campfires or sharpen those branches into sticks to roast marshmallows.
Some campers also mistake their fires for industrial smelters and toss in empty beverage cans, while others, who think nothing of completing a 10-mile hike, can't walk 10 yards to properly dispose of trash and recyclables in campground cans or pack out trash from backcountry campsites.
Those are the people Rose Fuge, an environmental educator with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, wanted a word with at the entrance to the Ohiopyle State Park campground.
Fuge had set up a "green" demonstration campsite as part of a new DCNR program aimed at helping campers lighten their environmental tread. And although she displayed an array of high-tech, low-impact camping gear, the program's focus is on changing camper behavior.
"The equipment is all very nice but what we're really pushing is a change in attitude and actions for people who camp and go into the woods," said Fuge, whose non-summer job is teaching math at the Turkeyfoot Junior High School. "And as for the trees, nails are a no-no, and people will be fined heavily for breaking off limbs."
The "green campsite," featuring a tent and sleeping bag made from recycled plastic bottles, fuel efficient cook stove, solar power generator and battery recharger, hand-crank powered flashlight, reusable dishes and utensils made from recycled plastic, non-toxic bug repellent and reusable marshmallow sticks, were set up each weekend through August at state park campgrounds across Pennsylvania. Park staff also provided outdoor recreational, amphitheater and family and children's programs that tied into the "green campsite" theme.
"We hope that after seeing the demonstration, visitors to our campgrounds will practice at least one of the techniques during their stay and share their experiences with others," said Bureau of State Parks Director John Norbeck,
Experienced campers Ian and Renee McNally, of Sandy Lake, Mercer Co., who stopped by the green campsite in Ohiopyle State Park to check out the gear, said they were most impressed by the tent and sleeping bag made from recycled materials.
"We have a clue. We've been camping since our honeymoon," Ian McNally said. "But this is the first campground we've seen with recycling bins."
Steve Mathews, a camper and kayaker from Morgantown, W.Va., stopped by Fuge's green campsite and was impressed with the solar recharger, the sleeping bag made from 88 recycled plastic bottles and the tent made from recycled materials.
"I didn't realize Big Agnes used recycled stuff," he said, referring to the Steamboat Springs, Col., outdoor equipment manufacturer of the tent and sleeping bag. "They have a very good reputation."
Chris Kennerer, a natural resources specialist with the park bureau, said economic conditions may be bringing more campers to the parks and producing a potential new audience for such a program.
Reservations for tent sites, cabins, tent cabins and yurts at the 67 state parks with overnight accommodations are up slightly this year to 211,275 reservation nights compared to 210,053 last year, and the campsites are filling up more often which may be an indication that during a bad economy people are looking for cheaper vacation options closer to home.
"We've had a really big push to get people outdoors and recreating, and the more people outdoors the more stresses on the environment," Kennerer said. "A lot of people think that camping, because it's done outdoors, is intrinsically good. But there's an effect on the environment that occurs. With this program, we want to emphasize a stewardship ethic and let people know how they can conserve."
Kennerer said the state started the program in response to some of the poor camping practices that were occurring in some campgrounds.
"We wanted to try to find a way to slow or eliminate some of the issues we were seeing in the campgrounds," he said, "not only for the benefit of the parks but also for people using the campgrounds."
The program emphasizes the principles of "leave no trace" camping, including traveling and camping on durable surfaces, proper waste disposal, minimal campfire impacts, respect for wildlife and consideration for other users of the resource.
First Published September 6, 2009 12:00 am