They’re just not quite ready to totally leave easy living – and technology – behind. In some states Wi-Fi is being added to the parks. In Kansas, electricity is being run to campsites that are little more than a flat spot on the ground with a picnic table and a fire pit. “Our millennials like to be able to charge a phone so they can stay connected,” said Linda Lanternman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism state park director. “That’s one of the things we’re seeing change. ” Lantern said that’s probably one reason why use of primitive campsites – those with no utilities – is on the decline. Another reason could be today’s campers simply want more comfort and better shelter. Either way, Lantern said she and her staff are searching for ways to satisfy today’s state park users. That includes investigating alternative shelters that are comfortable, protective and affordable. That means the day may soon come when Kansans could learn what it’s like sleep in a tepee on the high plains, or camp in the kind of giant-wall tent that big-game hunters have long adored in the Rocky Mountains. Yurts, the shelters of the Mongolian steppes, are already available in Kansas parks, but more opportunities are probably coming. “Not everybody wants to camp primitive, and not everybody can afford a modern cabin, so we’re trying to find things in between,” Lanterman said. “We know we have to keep changing to satisfy our state park users.” Other states are also making adjustments.
Brent Leisure, Texas state parks director, said a growing number of their clients want more comfort and convenience. “Anybody that’s camped much, at all, knows that sleeping on the ground when it’s wet can be absolutely miserable,” Leisure said. “It’s really a problem if it’s someone’s first time (camping) and that happens. That can make it a one-and-done thing, and that’s a threat to our future.” Kansas currently has 121 cabins for rent, most at state parks but a few at state fishing areas. Most of the cabins come as well equipped as many small houses, with private bedrooms, full bathrooms, electricity, heat, air-conditioning and hot water. Daily rates average about $100 per night. Several years ago two canvas yurts were placed at Eisenhower State Park, at Melvern Reservoir, about 40 miles south of Topeka. Each is 16 feet in diameter, is well insulated, and comes with electricity, heat and air-conditioning, windows, a skylight, solid floors and beds where guests can lay out sleeping bags or take their own linens.
BY MICHAEL PEARCE
Steady or improving attendance at Kansas state parks proves people still like camping in the great outdoors.