Anxiety is building amongst the seasoned campers. It’s estimated that the swarm of new Covid campers will quadruple in 2021. Once the weather warms, and the pandemic lockdowns are lifted, there will be hordes of newbies pitching camp and wandering the woods; and with that comes more garbage tossed, more wildlife harassed, more T.P. mounds covering the forest floor and definitely more rules of camp etiquette broken.
This sudden growth in larger numbers trying camping for the first time isn’t new. After any enlarged human tragedy—world wars, depressions, recessions, pandemics—people have escaped into the wilderness to cure their body and soul. Covid has done the same thing.
Similar in time, governments, organizations and individuals have initiated educational programs to promote proper camping etiquette to the new and/or uneducated masses. In the early 1950s jobs were scare across North America and veterans were still feeling the aftereffects of World War 2. Ontario Provincial Parks grew concerned over increased demand for outdoor leisure, coupled with concerns about the need to conserve natural environments.
The Provincial Parks Act was created in December 1954 and the number of parks in Ontario went from 8 to 77 in operation. In 1954, a film was also produced and directed for canoe campers heading into the backcountry of Quetico/Boundary Waters. It quickly became a classic, echoing a timeless message of respecting nature, being proficient in wilderness skills, and to leave-no-trace at the campsite.
The 1970s “stagflation” of the economy boosted the unemployment rate to record numbers. Camping became the cheap family holiday and crowds once again filled up the campgrounds and flocked to the hiking trails. Ontario Provincial Parks added a few more dozen campgrounds and produced the classic educational film Crickets Make Me Nervous, shown at countless park amphitheaters throughout the decade.
Watching the same thing unfold now, with the pandemic creating a rise in first-time campers, it’s obvious Ontario Provincial Parks needs to add or even re-open more places for people to pitch a tent or park an RV. It’s also obvious they need to create an educational program on camping etiquette, especially for the backcountry.
In the meantime, I figured I’d give the education thing a try. I gathered my film making friends at Birchbark Media; we re-watched the classic Crickets Make Me Nervous, dusted off Gary the puppet who we’ve used before to push a message of proper etiquette in the outdoors, and filmed the first of a video series we are calling Gary Makes Me Nervous.
Check it out and let me know what other lessons Gary should be highlighting to the uneducated bunch of newbie campers.