Campers find there's a lot to like about bushes, birds and even bugs.
For the Harrisons of Shawnee, Okla., a green space about 25 feet by 50 feet near the shore of Clinton Lake is well worth the 7 1/2-hour drive it takes them to reach it.
It's a camping trip the family of six makes every year for the July Fourth holiday.
"We tried it (camping) one time and we enjoyed it. From there we were hooked," said Jerry Harrison. "Everywhere we go around the country we seek out camping grounds. Besides, it's cheaper than hotels and the kids are free to roam."
And the Harrisons, who began camping in 1983 through an excursion with the Haskell Baptist Mission, aren't alone in their desire to be in the great outdoors.
"There's a resurgence of camping and other outdoor pursuits," said Jim Reid, public relations director for the camping gear trailblazing Coleman Company Inc., based in Wichita. "The reasons are many. Some just want to escape the day-to-day rat race. Others, recalling the joys of camping from their youth, want to create those experiences and memories for their kids and grandkids."
Children are an important consideration for the Harrisons.
"The kids like camping out. They really like roughing it once in a while," said Harrison who along with his wife, Harriet, had pitched tent in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campsite near Bloomington Beach. "It's amazing, with TV and video games -- it's like a different world when they get out here."
The four children, who range in age from 15 to 6, like to go on nature walks and look at bugs, he said.
"The children like to go to the water and swim," his wife added.
In another section of the park, 14-year-old Fawn Clemens, Topeka, was waiting to enter the water.
"I'd say it's (camping) pretty fun. I've done it several times before." Her first excursion into the woods was more than five years ago.
As the temperature rose into the 90s last Saturday, Fawn's extended family stayed cool under the shade of a large tree. Breezes moving in from the lake kept them quite comfortable.
"I think it's nice out here," Fawn said as she relaxed in a lounge chair. For Fawn, camping is an opportunity to catch up on sleeping, swimming and fishing. And then there's the food.
"I like eating " and roasting marshmallows," Fawn said. That idea was shared by her cousins, 11-year-old Michelle Blindt and 5-year-old Matthew Blindt of Topeka.
Matthew considered "eating marshmallows" to be among his favorite camping activities.
Fawn's stepfather, Phil Owens, Topeka, has been camping at least 25 years.
"A bunch of buddies of mine used to get together and go camping and fishing at Lake Shawnee," Owens said.
Usually the family heads to Perry Lake, but chose Clinton this year, because of high water at Perry.
Rent and reserve
In 1998, Clinton Lake drew about 400,000 visitors for its camping, boating and fishing opportunities. More than 87,000 of those people checked into lake's state and federal campgrounds for respite. The lake supports more than 850 campsites, many with electrical hookups.
At selected state parks, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks offers the Rent-A-Camp program aimed at first-time campers. The program provides a reserved campsite, a 10-foot-by-11-fot tent, cots and/or foam pads, propane stove, propane lantern, propane fuel, water cooler, broom, picnic table and fire ring. The setup can accommodate up to four people. The rental fee is $10 per night, in addition to $4 daily vehicle permit and a $5 daily camping permit.
Across the country, the National Park Service and the National Forest Service have responded to an increase in the number of people pursuing outdoor activities by instituting a campsite reservation system for popular destinations. Campers can be assured of sites at a national park by calling (800) 365-2267 up to five months in advance. This Web site may also be helpful: http://reservations.nps.gov/.
The Forest Service provides a national telephone reservation system and several "maverick" systems for making camping site reservations at many of its campgrounds. (A list of phone numbers for National Forests can be found at the Web site http://www.fs.fed.us/intro/directory/orgdir.shtml.)
Normally no more then 60 percent of the sites in any campground are available to be reserved, the Forest Service reports. The remaining sites are first come, first serve. Many state parks and Corps of Engineers sites also take reservations. Usually there is a charge for making a reservation.
Jerry Harrison finds that camping not only lets him get closer to nature, but also closer to his country. His family has already visited spots in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
"We hope to get an RV someday. My wish is to go across country. " Take in everything. There's so many sights; people don't realize that. I like historical things. When I go to a different state I look up the culture. We try to take in as much as we can with what our budget will allow," he said. "I'd like to follow the Chisholm Trail one day."
-- Jill Hummels' phone message number is 832-7150. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are several public campgrounds in the area.
Riverfront Park, Lawrence: Permits for camping are issued only at the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Departmentmain office, Room 400, City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts, 832-3450.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintain separate campgrounds at three area lakes:
Clinton Lake -- KDWP, 842-8562; and Corps of Engineers, 843-7665.
Perry Lake -- KDWP, (785) 246-3449; and Corps of Engineers, (785) 597-5144.
Pomona Lake, southwest of Overbrook -- KDWP, (785) 828-4933; and Corps of Engineers, (785) 453-2201.