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Back in the day


Kathryn A. Kahler

Glamp'-ing: shorthand for glamorous camping; luxury camping.

Woman standing next to picnic table at campsite© DNR FILES

A half century before the word glamping was officially recognized by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, a 16-day camping trip to Wisconsin was a recipe for disaster for an Indiana woman and her family. A DNR campground manager shared their experience with readers of the Wisconsin Conservation Bulletin in this excerpt from the May/June 1968 issue, along with his perspective while reading her four-page, handwritten letter. It takes us back to a time when life was a little less glamorous, and perhaps a little more mannerly.

Sometimes I wonder why I chose a career in natural resource management. The hours are long, the pay sometimes low and often the great out-of-doors is viewed through the window. Across the desk come a multitude of knotty problems.

One day as I was going through the morning mail, I found a letter that started like this:

"Our family of six recently camped for 16 days at one of your forest campgrounds. On the way we had a five-hour delay in 90-degree heat due to car trouble. Upon arrival we had to set up our tent in three different locations before we found a cool spot where there was a little breeze from the lake. Just as we became comfortably settled, it began to turn cool; then it rained, it hailed and through it all the wind blew."

At this point I breathed a sigh of relief. So far, the lady had only complained about the weather, and I didn't believe anyone would hold me liable for that. The opening of the next paragraph caused me to shudder a little, however.

"A psychotic skunk delighted in wandering around under our picnic table while the children and I waited patiently out on the road a safe distance away. Every night there was also a mouse in the washroom who couldn't decide if he should run away or stay and scare us away. To make matters worse, one woman came to the washroom carrying an axe over her shoulder, which was definitely more frightening than the mouse."

Things are getting worse! I thought I told all the attendants to warn the campers about skunks and to discourage them with an ammonia squeeze bottle. (If there is anything a skunk can't stand, it's a strong odor.) No doubt the lady with the axe has taken care of the mouse in the washroom, which accounts for those chips in the cement floor. The third paragraph started getting serious.

"My son cut his head and knocked a tooth loose. My daughter caught a cold, my husband's sinus trouble got worse and I got a sore throat. We sat around our campfire in the rain and decided that we must be nuts to pay $2 a night for what we were going through."

Now I was starting to get the message. Here comes the big one, I thought. The gods of wrath have showered misfortune on this woman and she is going to divert the overflow on me. What a plot this thing would make for an Excedrin commercial! Suddenly the letter took a change of tone.

"We are all now safe, snug and warm at our home in Indiana and counting the days and months until we can come back to your campground! We have camped all over the United States but your campground is the only place that we have returned to a second time.

"Your campground is a beautiful spot. Poor development might have ruined such a spot, but here the beauty has been preserved. The campground attendants go out of their way to be nice to campers. We don't know what your wonderful state does to train your attendants, but if they were all like the ones we met, your state would be overrun with tourists. We are looking forward to our return again next year!"

As I tacked the letter to the bulletin board where the campground attendants would be sure to see it, I anticipated the chuckles they would get from reading it. I selfishly shared the pat on the back for a job well done.

Amazing what a little thing like a 5-cent stamp (6-cent now) and four handwritten pages can do for morale. Maybe we stay in this game because every once in awhile when it seems you need it most, someone comes with the greatest motivator of all, a compliment!

Thank you Mrs. Bond of Valparaiso, Indiana. Come back soon.

Kathryn A. Kahler is an associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.