I just went on line to check out the current facilities in the Cades Cove Campground. I guess group camping is on my mind because of the current high level of interest among some of our city dwellers so I focused right in on the “Group Campgrounds” option. First thing that pops up is the rules and regulations:
Group campsites will accommodate tents only. Trailers, campers, or other wheeled units are not permitted. Showers and electric hookups are not available in park campgrounds, however shower facilities are available in the communities surrounding the national park. Please inquire about the nearest facilities when you check-in at the campground.
The minimum party size is seven, and the maximum length of stay is fourteen nights in these areas. Check out time is noon. You are welcome to call the ranger station to obtain site-specific information, but be aware that the ranger stations are field offices and are not staffed during all hours!
You must have reservations to camp at a group site. You can make reservations online or by phoning the National Park Reservation Service toll-free at (877) 444-6777. Additional information about when you can make reservations. Payment is required at the time the reservation is made. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/groupcamps.htm
If you didn't read the little blurb above, it includes a requirement for reservations, limits on the length of stay and group size, and up-front payment of fees. On the same page, I learned that the maximum group size is 30 and the cost per night is $65. Not too bad at a little over $2 per person at capacity. Smaller campsites suitable for individual families are available for $17 to $20 a night.
Some may suggest that such a regimented system just doesn’t seem right…that the campground belongs to “we the people” and that we should all be able to go there and camp for free whenever we want to and stay as long as we like. Not me. If I decide to camp there at my advanced age I definitely want to find a clean, well-maintained, uncrowded, and secure campsite. And I am certainly responsible for paying the cost of that service if I am one of a very small minority that choose to take advantage of it.
I suggest our mayors and city councils brush up on the National Park policies and regulations, set aside some property in the cities where camping can be allowed, and put some good rules in place to be followed by those who choose to camp there. They might even raise some badly needed revenue that way.
As I understand it, some of the campers are encouraging others to share, so it would be good for them to move on and share the space with somebody else. I think that principle and the old idea of cleaning up your own messes are the basis of the National Park rules.
This is not a new idea to me. I’m reminded of it by the recent increase in interest in outdoor activity in our cities, including on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol here in Columbia, but I posted a similar idea with respect to our homeless population in October, 2009, and in April, 2010.