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The Campsite as Place

This piece from <em>Places</em> delves into the history of the campsite, their use of space, and their role in modern culture.
June 2, 2011, 8am PDT | Nate Berg
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"This summer millions of Americans will take to the road in search of this powerful experience of nature. And that parcel of land upon which most will elect to drive their car, set up their tent, park their trailer or RV is the campsite - which is thus not only an imagined ideal but also the fundamental unit of management of the modern campground. There are 113,000 federally managed campsites in the United States, 166,000 campsites dispersed across state parks, and untold numbers in private facilities. [3] Last year Kampgrounds of America - KOA, familiarly - alone reported a total usage of over five million campsite nights, as well as 1.5 million hits monthly on its website. [4]

Modern campsites embody a peculiar contradiction: They are defined and serviced by an increasingly sophisticated range of utilities and conveniences, and yet marketed to perpetuate the cherished American ideal of the backwoods camp. For artist Robert Smithson, whose sensitivities to site and site-making were informed by childhood family camping trips he helped organize, the campsite was where one could reenact the making of a place. [5] Campgrounds indeed commodify into multiple sites - literally tens of thousands of them - with each functioning as the locus of a singular experience, which is itself further commodified and mediated by popular imagery. The record sales reported by sporting utility stores like REI and EMS owe largely to the retailers' successful efforts to associate their equipment with the out-of-doors and the prospect of healthy living. For many urbanites, high-performance gear - hiking boots, mountaineering vests, etc. - have become staples of everyday casual chic."

Author Martin Hogue is a fellow at the College of Environmental Forestry at the State University of New York, Syracuse.

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Published on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 in Places
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