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Glamping: Adding Creature Comforts To Campsites One Flat-Screen TV At A Time

Summer means camping, which can bring up images of drooping tents, wet sleeping bags, and swarms of mosquitos. But many campsite owners are offering amenities to make the experience more comfy, even luxurious.  And while critics say “glamping” defeats the purpose of getting away from it all, others say the trend has always been around.  KLCC’s Brian Bull visits some glamp sites in Oregon.  

The conical peaks of painted tipis pop through a lush, dark forest, as the sparkling Mill Creek courses through gardens.  For Dusty Maxwell and his wife, Courtney, the Tipi Village Retreat in Marcola, is a great way to mark 10 years together.

“It’s beautiful here for one thing, and then the breakfast was amazing," says Dusty.  "Blueberry pancakes, frittata, potatoes, fresh fruit...man, there was tons of stuff out there to eat!” 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Dusty and Courtney unwind at the Tipi Village Retreat, for their 10th wedding anniversary.

“We wanted to find a place that had a lot of amenities for us that was really soothing, and the sound of the river is beautiful. And…who doesn’t like sleeping in a tipi?" laughs Courtney.

Co-owner Ken Froebig says the Tipi Village Retreat opened six years ago.  It’s half an hour east of Eugene. He gives me a tour.

“So we're just walking by the outdoor kitchen, we cook outdoors, grills and pizza oven that’s wood-fired…we’re walking past the hot tub area right now...” 

The Lakota-style tipis themselves range from the $150 per night Hiawatha, to the $330 per night Crazy Horse.  All are furnished, with stone floors and electricity.  Co-owner Janet Becker says she offers her own perks, too.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“I do offer reflexology here. Working with certain reflex points in your feet or hands. That is offered by the cabin sometimes or by the creek.” 

100 miles west towards the Oregon Coast, a motorboat slices through the Siltcoos River, where Gary Dimon runs the Siltcoos Lake Resort.  He shows me a round hut-like cabin, called a “yurt”. 

“So the yurt has a pellet stove, a little kitchen, a queen bed," says Dimon.  "Turn the pellet stove on, you set the thermostat at 70 degrees...you can watch a movie on a stormy day, you can go kayaking, you could fish…” 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Flat-screen TV, coffee maker, and other niceties inside yurt at Siltcoos Lake Resort.

Not to mention the fire pit and flat-screen TV.   Other glamping sites put you up in heated treehouses, vintage Airstream campers, or luxury bathhouses. 

So what’s up with all these modern, cushy amenities?  Wouldn’t a hardcore camper surrender to the elements with just a threadbare tent and sleeping bag?  Turns out…Dimon is riding a trend that he didn’t anticipate but appreciates all the same. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Signage for Siltcoos Lake Resort, near the Oregon Coast.

“I didn’t really see the websites taking off, I’m on a couple different websites, glamping.com and glamping-hub," he tells KLCC.  

"And the amount of bookings I get from all over is pretty surprising.  The four months of summer, it stays booked pretty much all the time.”

Websites, travel magazines, and newspapers have been touting the cushy and insulated comforts of glamping in recent years.  But Margaret Bailey of the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals (SORP) says glamping hasn’t arrived…because it never really left.  

“If you think about pictures of the Ottomans in the desert, that’s glamping," says Bailey.  "If you think of George Washington’s camp in Valley Forge…y’know, bringing the comforts of home into a tent in a separate location….if you think about explorers in Africa on safaris….so glamping as a concept has been around a very, very long time.” 

Credit Scott Moore / Flickr.com
Grand Vizier's tent from the Ottoman Empire, circa 1680s. An early example of "glamping"?

Bailey also disputes that traditional camping is under attack by glamping.  She says for her group, the main goal is to just get people outside.

“Sometimes we have to meet people where they’re at.  And so if in essence, creating some creature comforts provides a segment of the market the way they get outside to appreciate the outdoors, it’s not a problem.” 

Bailey adds glamping is a great way to turn young campers on to the wilderness, and for senior campers, a way to be with families in a more comfortable setting.  With a new KOA report showing growing numbers of people interested in camping, it’s important park and campground operators pay attention to visitor expectations and needs…whether it’s a fire pit or Wi-Fi.

And there remains a core group that’s always happy with a just fire pit, a plot of ground, and an axe. 

"Daddy, I’m going to rip open one more bag…”

“Perfect, buddy we need them all open, so you can get’em all.” 

“Could I have that axe, please?”

“Yeah, one second buddy…"

John Bannister of Portland is cutting up wood with his son, Viggo, at Silver Lake State Park.  They’ve a vinyl tent with air mattresses, a cooler, hibachi…

…and ah…beer.” (laughs) 

BULL:  All the essentials. 

“Yeah, exactly.” 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
John Bannister, Viggo, and Keeya Moon at their fairly rustic and basic camp site in Silver Lake State Park, Oregon.

John’s wife, Keeya, says this basic setup is still pretty upscale compared to the couple’s early adventures together.

“We backpacked all over Alaska and we’d kayak for seven days in the middle of nowhere, and not see anybody," she says.  

"Grizzly bears, and moose, and caribou, so…now that we’re here, it’s sort of luxurious to us.” 

“To each their own, but…if you’re going to come out to the woods and have Wi-Fi and a flat screen TV, it’s almost like, what’s the point?  If people want to bring it with them, I guess that’s their prerogative, but it’s not for me.” 

“I don’t even need Wi-Fi!” adds Viggo.

And there are other glamping trends on the rise. In England there’s “champing” – or camping inside old medieval churches…a venture bound to add new meaning to the term, “tent revival”.  

Copyright 2017, KLCC. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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