WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — For the Wohlfords of Noblesville, the Old Mill Run Park in Thorntown is a home away from home. The couple recently graduated from being weekend campers to full timers, staying there all summer long.
But with that upgrade came another —the need to have wireless Internet.
“We would be OK for a weekend,” said Mary Ann, 64. “But when you are full-time, for us, it wouldn’t work. There are just so many things that are (done) through the computer, through the Internet.”
Her husband, Steve Wohlford, agreed. “We need to stay in touch and pay our bills,” said Steve, 66.
It used to be that campers would take their RVs or tents and head into the woods to be rid of the electrical devices that distract and occupy our daily lives. However, as technology has become more mobile, it has become increasingly difficult to disconnect, even in the woods. Today, more campers request that campsites offer WiFi so they can stay connected and campground owners have accommodated this request.
About 72 percent of privately owned and operated campgrounds, RV parks and RV resorts offer wireless Internet service, according to a 2010 campground operations survey by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
Eric Stumberg, founder and chief executive officer of TengoInternet, an Austin, Texas-based company that specializes in providing wireless Internet service to private campgrounds, said the trend started to take off about five years ago. Similar to hotels, campgrounds needed to offer WiFi as an amenity.
For his company, the number of unique connections has increased 50 percent to 75 percent each year, he said. This has been driven by more people connecting and families using multiple devices to do so.
“It’s weird, you would think if you were going camping you wouldn’t need to be connected,” he said. “(But) people want to be connected while they are traveling. Ten or 15 years ago, when people traveled, it wasn't important that they stayed connected.”
Sandy and Ralph Christman own the RV Park where the Wohlfords are staying. They added WiFi about five years ago because campers were requesting it, Sandy said.
WORK FROM CAMP
Although the cost to install WiFi was initially expensive, Sandy said it’s been worth it. “Everyone uses the WiFi, kids, everybody with all the iPhones, iPods,” she said.
Jeff Crider, association spokesman, said there are multiple factors fueling this trend. One simple reason is that mobile technology enables us to stay connected.
“The reality of 21st century-America is that most people want to be connected most of the time, people want to be in touch with their kids, extended family, employers and employees,” he said.
Also, given the use and access of technology today, many people choose to work from home.
Sandy said many of the campers who visit Old Mill Run work from home, so offering WiFi access enables them to camp.
“They can be here and enjoy their family with a few hours of working,” she said.
Before retiring, Mary Ann would sometimes bring her work with her to Old Mill Run and start the weekend early.
“(It) was nice,” she said. “I could do everything I needed to do.”
But the WiFi access isn't only used for work.
Steve uses it to stay connected to others. “I go to my favorite website, iRV2,” he said. “Its a social network for campers.”
XBOX IN THE WOODS
Charles Bowling of Noblesville, who's also staying at Old Mill Run in Thorntown, said his 12-year-old grandson uses it when he visits to play video games on his Xbox.
“He hooks it up to the Internet and plays with other people,” said Bowling, 68. “He's good on the computer with the games and stuff.”
Bowling said his wife also uses the Internet to peruse Facebook. Bowling has a laptop for himself, another for his wife and a third one for his grandson, not to mention an electronic tablet and smartphone, all at the RV park.
Like most campers, Bowling enjoys the outdoors and views the RV park as a getaway from home.
Similar to the Wohlfords, he believes being wired doesn’t deter from that experience.
“I don’t let it get in the way,” he said. “In the evening, I’ll check things out or on the weekends when I don't have anything else going on.”
In fact, being wired, even while enjoying the outdoors, has its advantages.
“It’s a good way to keep track of family,” he said. “It seems to be the way things are going anymore.”
Courtesy of AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune