Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is it camping if it requires a gas generator?

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BANFF -- One of the joys of summer in Canada is the ability to get out there in the wild, immerse yourself in the pungent odour of smoke as you cook homemade s'mores over the campfire and watch the occasional deer wander through your campsite.

Summer camping is a Canadian rite and about as iconic as owning one of those once-again stylish Hudson's Bay Co. striped blankets (or mugs or socks or any of a dozen other new products that carry the brand).

But the camping experience is not quite what it was back in the day of canvas tents, hand-pumped Coleman stoves and battered acoustic guitars. Today, camping has gone supersized, with massive fifth-wheelers, dual-tank propane supplies, big-screen TVs and more comforts than a lot of people have back in the city.

With all this luxury in the "wild," you'd think some of these campers would have picked up a few tips on courtesy along the way. Unfortunately, it appears our civility has not evolved quite as much as our gadgets.

I'm no prude. In my teens, I was as guilty as any young punk of sitting up too late, having a few too many beers and playing the tunes so loud the neighbours in the next campsite would have to come over and give us a tune-up. Even so, I'm shocked at how noise in campgrounds -- often all day -- has become the norm rather than the notable exception.

Here's the latest outrage. Sometime between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. each day, before the sun has even had a chance to pick its way through the pines, an orchestra of muffled chugs from electrical generators ensure no wildlife in its right mind would consider coming within 10 kilometres.

These little Hondas and Yamahas sit obediently out by the picnic tables, with black umbilical cords attached to the starships that delivered them. The humans are nowhere to be seen, likely because they're inside catching up on the morning sports. The spectacle takes the edge off the chilly first cup of coffee for more modest campers.

It makes we wonder why some people come out to camp at all. In fact, what is camping, if it's in a rolling tin can that's bigger than my first house? To each their own, of course, but the simple fact is any campground that accommodates these massive RVs is not going to be a peaceful one.

There are lots of other ways campers can be rude. Mostly, it has to do with assuming the rules of the campground are somehow different than in the city. Some campers seem to think there's nothing unusual at all with wandering through the middle of your campsite. They clang the pots and pans at 6 a.m., or they leave scraps of food -- perfect bear bait -- out on the table, rather than disposing of it properly. Some people encourage their kids to ride their bikes around the roads and scream like they're at the local playground.

When any of these things happen, it can add stress and take the magic out of the camping experience. It's times like these when you start thinking about the genuine Canadian camping rite -- the one where you boldly hike or paddle deep into the backcountry where no Airstream dare to tread.

Canada has some of the most beautiful and spectacular parks in the world. The Harper government's push to have Parks Canada generate more revenue from those parks means they will have to encourage more comfy-campers to bring out the big rigs on the long weekends. Maybe there's no way around it, but for us nature nuts, the consequence of inviting these intruders is that those special natural areas are a little less natural and a lot less special.

A few small measures would make that trend slightly more bearable for the rest of us. A good start would be to tell those homes-on-wheels to leave their generators at home. If it's that important to watch the big-screen TV and run the microwave, you might be more comfortable in a Walmart parking lot.

Doug Firby is editor-in-chief and national affairs columnist for Troy Media.

-- Troymedia.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2013 A15

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