2017 Camping Etiquette Guide

It’s prime camping season and hordes of Hoosiers are heading to private campgrounds and state parks to enjoy all the healthy benefits of outdoor living: wholesome days of hiking, nights around the campfire, fellowship, outdoor beauty and Mick Jagger howling “I can’t get NO satisfaction”.

Let me explain.

I have been accused of being a curmudgeon, a charge that I whole-heartedly embrace, but nowhere is that trait more on display than the campground during peak season. Being sentenced to a weekend of hard labor at tent city reminds me of all the reasons I quit summer camping in the first place

Don’t get me wrong- I love to sleep outdoors. During those moments when I am forced to mentally “go to my happy place,” it is represented by a secluded mountaintop garnished with a tiny blue tent and a couple of friends sitting nearby smoking cigars, enjoying a wee bit of Kentucky Holy Water and watching the sun depart toward China. What I don’t dream about is the nylon and aluminum slums that sprinkle the hinterlands of Indiana.

Some of this disdain stems from simple proximity. Most campgrounds think nothing of stacking sites close enough together that if someone sneezes in the middle of the night, a dozen other voices murmur “Bless you.” I just don’t find it relaxing to literally be rubbing elbows with the neighbors while visiting our so-called “Wide Open Spaces.”

While proximity increases my unease, the biggest problems are people themselves. Some folks indeed conduct themselves with decorum and respect for others but the vast majority of campers don’t share such silly concerns because it is time to Have Fun!!!

After years of watching the antics of fellow campground residents while slowly grinding my molars to nubs, I realized that either only loud, rude people choose to go camping or there is something about the outdoors that leads normal folks to utterly suspend the rules of polite society. I have therefore decided to put out my unsolicited and likely unwelcome 2017 Guide to Campground Etiquette.

1. A campsite is not some giant motel room for holding your beer bash or motorcycle rally.

2. The sounds of nature are vastly preferable to the Rolling Stones or George Jones blaring over a 50,000-watt speaker system. I like both artists and personally own a stereo system powerful enough to bore holes through solid wood but I don’t bring it to the campground.

3. The burning of treated lumber, picnic tables, trail markers and wet cardboard food containers produce noxious fumes that cast a choking haze over the campground that is highly reminiscent of Calcutta during a smog alert. Here’s a tip: only burn actual firewood in the fire ring.

4. More importantly, if the temperature is so high that mosquitoes are bursting into flame mid-flight and ministers are openly cursing, do you really need that campfire?

5. I like children, but not yours. Please keep the little miscreants under control until they are formally invited into my campsite to rummage through the cooler and smear chocolate on the tent.

6. If you arrive late, attempt to set up as unobtrusively as possible. Lying awake at midnight a few weeks ago, I could not decide whether the neighbor was pitching camp or attempting to build a steam locomotive from scratch.

7. Barking dogs are supremely annoying, especially those ones the size and color of a cotton wad that have a high-pitched bark that pierces your brainstem like a frozen ice pick. I’m a “dog person,” but shut that thing up or leave it at home. If not, Fido might get a surreptitious dog laxative treat from that surly curmudgeon a few sites over.

8. Clean up after yourself in the bathroom! I’m not sure what happens in campgrounds on Saturday night but by Sunday morning, the restrooms always look like they’ve been visited by beef cattle with a severe intestinal disorder.

9. I realize “body-shaming” is now a sin worse than Nazism but simple good taste requires I point out that if you are morbidly obese, there is nothing wrong with wearing a shirt in a public campground. Likewise, should your shorts look like they are slowly being eaten by your gluteal cleft, perhaps yoga pants aren’t the ideal wardrobe choice if you weigh north of 400 pounds.

10. Stealing picnic tables is a capital offense.

I beg your pardon for the snarky tone of this column but for those who simply want to relax, a night in the campground shouldn’t be more stressful than negotiating Chicago rush-hour traffic in a snowstorm. Hopefully a few readers might see the error of their ways and strive to clean up their act.

On the other hand, they’ll probably just lob burning picnic tables at my tent. That’s why I’m swearing off campgrounds until cold weather.