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Skill Builder : Etiquette Camp

Tips for camping in harmony with nature - and other campers.

By Bernadette Noll

I have camped with my family in a variety of public and private campgrounds around Texas and the country. Our experiences have run the gamut from off-the-charts amazing to slightly torturous to downright infuriating. Sadly enough, the factors that would make or break our trips were not the weather or the location or the gear we had or forgot, but rather the people camping around us. If we could say one thing to the people that negatively altered our experiences, we would tell them that camping is about visiting nature, not altering it to their individual needs. If folks could just remember this basic tenet, sort of the golden rule of camping, campers and campgrounds everywhere would be well served. So, here they are, a short list of 11 things you can do to enjoy nature and get along with all those around you who want to enjoy it too.

  1. Keep your car and your bike on road and on trail unless told otherwise. Just because you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle or a dirt bike doesn't give you permission to forge your own trails. Other folks want to witness the splendor of nature while hiking or biking, not the depth of your car tires in the mud.
  2. Pick up your trash of course, but before you do that even, reduce the amount of trash you create. Choose reusable instead of disposable. Whatever waste you do create, make sure it goes into a proper bin and pick up a few extra pieces of trash while you're at it.
  3. Scoop the poop. Yours or your dogs. Like all other waste, improper dumping is punishable by a $50 to $400 fine.
  4. Keep the noise to a minimum and keep it to yourself, making sure to keep it at a volume that doesn't leave your campsite. There's no reason the folks next to you need to be subjected to the Greatest Hits of the '80s while sitting around their campfire. Listen to the sounds of nature or, if you really want to blast the music, find some private land to camp on.
  5. Keep your dogs nearby. Most campgrounds have leash and off-leash areas. Follow the rules. Even if your dog is a "good" dog off-leash, the rules are there to protect wildlife and the other campers as well.
  6. Keep your kids to yourself too. If your kids don't come when you call them, they probably shouldn't be off-leash, er, I mean out of sight. If you've got a pack of kids, like we do, make your camp away from the crowds if you can or near other family campers. While you can't always control the amplitude, do your best to keep the sound and the impact within your own campsite or far enough away from others so as not to be a nuisance. Teach them to be mindful of fellow campers and of the wildlife, too.
  7. Minimize the light. The idea of camping out is to reconnect with the natural rhythms of the day and night. At dark, build a fire or light some candles or ignite your propane torch if you need to - keeping the light within the confines of your campground only. Leave the 10,000-watt flashlight at home. Enjoy the darkness, check out the moon and the stars, and really participate in nature's nightlife.
  8. Do not harm the wildlife in any way. You are in their house now. Bugs, birds, snakes and other small animals should be left alone.
  9. Be mindful of what leaves your campground - just like the light and the sound, watch the smoke from your cigarettes, bug sprays, etc. Don't assume that just because you're outside, it's okay. If in doubt, walk outside your campsite and check it out.
  10. If you are offended by someone near you who is violating the rules, be kind in your requests. If you are the offender, accept the request in a non-judgmental way. We really can all get along if we try and we can all enjoy nature that much more if we do.
  11. For every flower you pick, every boom box you blast, every piece of trash you drop, every light you ignite, every trail you destroy or path you force through the woods - consider the consequences if a few hundred visitors a week did the same. Leave it as you found it, taking only memories and leaving only footprints - and small ones at that.

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