Everyone is a friend when you’re camping

Barbara Hootman

Camping is a part of the American summer tradition, allowing people of all ages and backgrounds to reconnect with the natural world around them.

The American Camper Report indicates that some 38 million Americans - 13 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 6 - enjoys camping. People camp in a variety of ways, including RV and trailer campgrounds, tents and cabins.

Vicki Gilkeyson, manager of KOA East Asheville Campground in Swannanoa, said she has lots of campers from Western North Carolina; some live close and visit the campground eight to 10 times a season. Most of the local campers come from a 100-mile radius of the campground.

“Our particular campground appeals to those retired and those with children,” she said. “We have a lot of different activities, like a July 4 parade and a big celebration for Halloween, including trick-or-treat. We get to know many of our campers and enjoy seeing them. They are loyal to us and return often.”

Misty and Tim Laws from Fairview visit the local KOA Asheville East Campground numerous times during the season. They have a camping trailer.

“We come here at least four times a summer season,” she said. “It isn’t just us, but our entire family comes. We also camp in other places during the summer. It is like a family reunion when we go camping with the family. There are three campers of us. I am a Head Start teacher, and my husband is an electrician. Camping is a total break from what we ordinarily do, and that makes it a lot of fun. We have been camping since our kids were small, and now they are teenagers and still enjoy coming with us. They grew up camping, and it is a way of summer life for them.

The Laws enjoy the variety of people that they meet while camping.

“Ninety-five percent of the people that come to this campground are just everyday people who enjoy the casual atmosphere that camping provides,” Tim Laws said. “I don’t have to go home and rest before I go back to work. This kind of camping rests you mentally and physically.”

He and his wife like the personal touch that Gilkeyson provides for her campers.

She and others who work there “know you by name when you walk into the office, and they are happy to see you again,” Misty said. “This campground is unique in that they make your camping experience a personal one. We think camping is the best vacation you can have. We’ll be back for Labor Day and for Halloween trick-or-treating.”

Charlotte and Walter Smith have been RV campers, since 1985 when they married. They have been camping at the KOA campground in Swannanoa since 1989 when it was Tanglewood.

She is the full-time driver of the 34-foot-long RV. With a car in tow, their vehicular parade is close to 50 feet.

“Camping is a way of life for us,” she said. “We travel with our three cats, Biffy, Obie and Greta, who enjoy it as much as we do. It prevents having to leave them in a kennel while we are gone.”

The Smiths are residents of Sanford, Florida, and are campers year-round.

“We have camped in all the states, six Canada provinces, and visited Alaska,” 86-year-old Walter said. “We didn’t take the camper into Canada or Alaska.”

Walter has a long history of visiting the Valley in the summer. He was water safety director at Ridgecrest Conference Center when he was in college.

A distant relative was the first chartered landowner in North Carolina, who bought land from two Indian chiefs, Walter said.

“My parents used to come up from Florida and stay at the Monte Vista Hotel (in Black Mountain) and go to Montreat Conference Center,” he said. “They came every year. I have close ties to this area and always enjoy coming back.”

“We usually camp for three months during the summer and return to Florida for the winter,” Charlotte said. “We belong to a camping club, so we are out around Orlando camping even in the winter. Wherever we go, we are at home with the RV. We’ve been here since the first week of June and will stay through the third week of August.”

“Campers are an agreeable bunch of people,” Walter said. “If you aren’t relaxed and enjoying yourself, you shouldn’t be camping.”

The Smiths said campground life is good and that they meet a lot of interesting people.

“When you are campers, you really never meet a stranger,” Charlotte said. “People are relaxed and friendly.”