Camping down at national parks and other rec areas |

Camping down at national parks and other rec areas

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine – Arthur and Mary Varricchio used to pitch a tent when they visited Acadia National Park. These days, they’re more likely to get a motel room with air conditioning, clean sheets and a soft pillow.”We were tougher 20 years ago,” Arthur said as he and his wife took a break from a brisk ride on mountain bikes through the woods on the park’s dirt paths. “Now we’re gravitating toward ‘Isn’t this a nice mattress.”‘The Varricchios, who are in their 50s, illustrate a growing trend of baby boomers forgoing camping, especially in tents, when they head outdoors.Tourism experts say boomers’ preference for cushier vacations is contributing to a decline in campers and other visitors at parks nationwide.At Acadia, annual visitation fell 15 percent from 1999 to 2004. Only 72,000 people camped out there last year, a drop of 22 percent in the past decade. Nationwide, camping at national parks fell 12 percent between 1999 and 2004.The aging population is just part of the reason, said Jim Gramann, a professor at Texas A&M University and the visiting chief social scientist for the National Park Service.Other factors include hectic lifestyles, competing recreational options, an uncertain economy, a fall in international visitors, shorter vacations and even an increase in ethnic populations unfamiliar with the park system.Boomers are opting for recreational vehicles, dude ranches and lodges. They’re also taking amenity-filled vacations on cruise ships and buying vacation homes near the beach or mountains, said Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition in Washington, D.C.The declines don’t mean the parks are deserted. There were 276.9 million visits to the National Park System last year. Many parks have reached carrying capacity and can barely handle more visitors, and some are trying to encourage visitors to park their cars and use shuttle buses to reduce traffic.

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