'Glampers' enjoy the great outdoors - with AC

"Ready-made campsites" near the Darien Lake in western New York come with a platform tent, queen bed, end table, lamp, fire ring, and picnic table. Summer packages, including park admission, start at $130 per night. ConTENTment Camping
"Ready-made campsites" near the Darien Lake in western New York come with a platform tent, queen bed, end table, lamp, fire ring, and picnic table. Summer packages, including park admission, start at $130 per night. ConTENTment Camping
Posted: August 17, 2013

Butch and Thelma Reinart used to be campers, the traditional kind who'd pitch a tent in the woods and sleep on the ground. They'd cook their meals over an open fire and keep food fresh in a cooler with ice.

That's all changed. Now the Chester County couple are "glampers," enjoying the outdoors in a 32-foot camper with "all the bells and whistles," Butch, 50, said, including a television with satellite dish, a queen-size bed, and a screened-in porch. While their campsite at Black Rock Family Campground in Berks County still has an open fire pit for cooking, they keep their perishables in a full-size fridge and use the microwave when they're feeling lazy.

"A tent and a sleeping bag, we've been there, done that. That's for people under 30 with good backs or a lot of booze in their system," said Thelma, 50. "Everything gets really old."

Long popular in Europe, "glamping" (for "glamour camping") is growing in the United States. When glampinghub.com went live two years ago, it listed 10 sites. Now, it promotes 600 locations across the country and overseas, cofounder Ruben Martinez said.

Glampers can spend $30 to $3,000 per night to stay in furnished tents on platforms, yurts, tree houses, or tepees. At its most basic, these sites take the hardest work - hauling equipment and setting it up, gathering water and firewood - out of the equation. The higher-end experiences can include five-course breakfasts, cast-iron soaking tubs with hot water in the middle of the woods, on-call butlers, and spa services.

"People want to be outdoors, but they want to be comfortable," Martinez said. "It's not a normal vacation, and there's something in this generation where people want to say, 'Guess what I did. It was awesome, and you've never done it before.' "

There are even companies like ConTENTment Camping, which provides pop-up glamping sites for events like outdoor music festivals. Last month, for the first time, the company did 50 such tents for Delaware's Firefly music festival. A three-day, $1,458 package included a private tent with floor and bed in the middle of the site, with access to air-conditioned bathrooms and showers and breakfast daily.

"It's like a hotel, but you still have to walk across a field," said Robert Frisch, the company's director of operations. "People feel stuck in cities a lot. They like the idea of camping, but they don't want to sleep on the floor, or they don't own camping equipment, or it's not worth schlepping it out once a year and storing it. This is a convenience."

But do glampers get that true outdoor experience?

Butch Reinart, a veteran camper, said yes.

Reinart lives on a main highway in his "real" life, and "I can hear the cars with the pipes, and they rattle the windows, and you can smell the gasoline fumes in the air." Then he travels an hour to his campsite, a clearing in the woods, and finds peace.

"I'm up here to suck in all of God's nature," he said.

He walks in the forest, carrying a machete to collect firewood. He cooks over the open fire. The air, he said, is clear and cooler than it is at his home.

"I'm like a baby in a big playpen with nothing but toys when I'm outside," he said.

He'll spend weeks at a time at the camp during the summer. When his wife and their three daughters, ages 29, 18 and 16, visit, he enjoys the way they come to him for guidance.

"I feel more important when we're all together up here," he said. "You're closer to your family while you're camping. You rely on each other more."

He said he's thinking of adding a hot tub.

Not everyone embraces glamping. Dennis Kohl, accommodations director at New York's Darien Lake theme park, said he resisted when ConTENTment Camping came to him a few years ago to partner on glamping sites, thinking it sounded silly. Darien Lake has about 1,200 50-by-50-foot sites on its grounds.

Last year, after getting feedback from his coworkers, he weakened. He allowed ConTENTment to set up 10-by-14-foot platforms topped with waterproof tents at 10 locations. Inside, campers got two chairs and a table, and they could choose a queen bed or two twin beds. The sites also have water and electricity "so if they need their Keurig, they can still bring that," Kohl said.

The response? The sites were all rented throughout July and August. This year, Darien Lake is offering 20 such locations.

"Purists think the glampers are a little bit crazy, but they're different demographics," Kohl said. "We've seen a lot of young couples and families with kids who want to experience a camping atmosphere, semi-under the stars."

As newlyweds, Katie McKnight and husband, Bill, 45, camped the old-fashioned way. After the couple's three sons were born, the family tried hotel-based vacations - and quickly found the boys' love of bed-jumping and hallway-screaming did not a happy vacation make.

The family decided to try camping. On their first run, the family shared a tent in a friend's backyard.

"My kids did not like the dirt, and they're afraid of everything," Katie, 43, recalled. "When the sun came up, they saw an outline of a daddy longlegs on the tent and freaked out."

Now, the Long Island author and her family glamps in the Poconos at a campground in Scotrun, Monroe County. Their 30-foot trailer has three televisions and climate controls. That allows the boys - 16, 13, and 12 - to get their video-gaming in while also forcing them into the outdoors.

"At home, the kids don't want to go outside, even to see their friends," Katie said. "Here, they actually ride their bikes and go on nature walks."

Still, it would be a stretch to call the boys campers. The only survival skill they've acquired, their mother said, "is how to make a fire, the one skill I don't want them to have." One recent evening, as McKnight prepared for the family to gather around the fire and make s'mores, one of her sons, still inside the trailer, asked whether there were bears in the surrounding woods.

"I said, 'Yeah, but we haven't seen them in the seven years we've been here,' " she said.

Still, to be completely safe, she agreed to play one of her CDs, featuring Adele and Christina Aguilera, over the trailer's outdoor speakers. That would keep the bears away, she said. And her son replied, "We might keep everyone away."

"They are glampers," Katie said. "They are total glampers."

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