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(Un)Happy Campers: Five Guaranteed Ways to Piss Off a Campground

Based on a recent personal tale of woe, here are five key takeaways from one particular couple's masterclass on how to turn hundreds of happy campers into your sworn campground enemies. Enjoy.

Every outdoor enthusiast dreams of arriving at the perfect campsite. A solitary, stunningly beautiful, and civilization-free destination with a panoramic wilderness view below and a glistening starry night above. If you've ever owned an Instagram account, then you can picture exactly what we're talking about.


We have good news and bad news about such wilderness camping ambitions. The good news is that such immaculate camping destinations exist in the Detroit region. The bad news - which we at Expedition Detroit still view as good news - is that you typically have to work for such elusive camping sites. Several of our region's top campgrounds require pre-booking, have strict spatial limitations, and are only reached via backpacking or canoe camping.

The summation of these variables means that the vast majority of camping experiences in the Detroit region will occur at large, modern group campgrounds. Campgrounds shared by experienced backpackers and family RVers alike. Ultralight outdoor enthusiasts just looking for a night in the woods and family reunions packing the majority of their material possessions into the trailer. The full spectrum of the outdoor universe, converging on a nightly basis with popular campgrounds across North America. A beautiful, claustrophobia-inducing kaleidoscope of modern American life.


A week ago today, I joined the cadre of Detroit region campers that descended upon Proud Lake Recreation Area's "Modern Campground." Unlike my car camping compatriots, I strolled in at 11:30 p.m. after 12.39 miles of backpacking on the Chief Pontiac Trail. My tiny patch of green grass was sandwiched in between several RVs, picnic-style shelters, and one other solitary patch of grass fit for a tent directly next to me. A potential ally amidst RV nation.


No, dear reader. The couple that would occupy that space proved to be anything but allies in my mission for a rejuvenating night sleep. A weary backpacker's worst nightmare of constant noise, arguments, fights, and unattended flames. A one-way ticket to a sleepless night in the tent. A masterclass on improper campground etiquette.


I emerged from my tent the next morning very much not a happy camper. More of a groggy, and achy shell of a man. But credit's owed where credit's due, and this terrible couple did gift me with an idea for an article. Specifically this article. Enjoy.

1. ROLL IN WITH YOUR HIGH BEAMS ON - AND KEEP THEM ON WHILE YOU UNLOAD

We've all heard the old maxim that "Nothing good happens after midnight." Well, right as I finally closed my eyes after settling into my sleeping bag around 12:05 a.m., my tent suddenly lit up as bright as a disco ball. I opened my eyes to see silhouettes crossing in front of my tent - two particular silhouettes, a man and a woman, that had somehow managed to arrive to their campground after yours truly.


Their high beams remained fixated on their campsite - and my tent by the transitive property - throughout the entirety of their setup process.


As Master Yoda would say, happy camper I was not.


Now, we at Expedition Detroit fully understand that an absence of light can cause disruption to typical recreational activities. In fact, we wrote an entire series on recreating at night. However, the game-changing invention of headlamps provides an efficient means of securing an illumination source without blinding half of the campground. Especially if you require said illumination source long after most of the campground has turned in for the night.

2. BLAST MUSIC ALL NIGHT

Let's make one point abundantly clear: everyone loves a good campfire. Especially one with roaring flames, post-trail beers, good stories, even better company, and great background tunes. Shoot, we're indifferent to whether the music is live or playing through a JBL bluetooth speaker. If the music is on-point, then it belongs around a fire ring.


Alas, all incredible nights must eventually come to an end - especially in public accommodations. Conversations tied up, food secured, flames extinguished, and certainly music hushed. All proper prerequisites to a peaceful night's rest in nature.


Unless, of course, you want to ruin that aspect of the camping experience for everyone around you by blasting music until 3 a.m. in the middle of a packed campground.


Just to demonstrate that we're not curmudgeons over here, our general rule of thumb on weekend nights is to kill the music by 1 a.m. at the latest. Admittedly that's a purely subjective time, but we think 1 a.m. hits the nexus between recognizing the existence of the "party camping" and "early bird" crowds. Regardless, we should all be able to agree that at a certain point in the night - especially in public spaces - noise pollution needs to reach zero.


Which leads me to my next point...

3. START A FIGHT

As tedious as late night loud music can be, I recently discovered that absolutely nothing dismantles a good night's rest like a full-blown argument. During the middle of the night. In the dead center of an otherwise perfectly still campground. In fact, I actually wished these very unhappy campers would've turned their speaker back on.


Here's our simple advice: public campgrounds at 3 a.m. should not constitute your venue of choice for airing out couple's grievances. Believe it or not, nobody wants to hear about your domestic shortcomings, explicit bedroom preferences, and colorful language to describe one another. Even more so, no one wants to provide witness testimony for a future domestic abuse case.


We acknowledge and celebrate the outdoors' ability to provide a healing environment for the wear and tear of living in a modern society. Science has consistently supported that time spent in the outdoors materially decreases levels and feelings of stress, depression, burn-out, hopelessness, and lack of creativity.


However, reaping the full bounty of nature's psychological benefits largely depends on you and the mindset that you've opted to bring with you to the woods. If you are looking for peace, relaxation, inspiration, and rejuvenation, then the Detroit region's immaculate trails and waterways will surely deliver on this pursuit. If you are unwilling to leave your anger, frustrations, prejudice, and selfish ambitions at the trailhead, then such traits will arrive with you at the campground.


Please don't turn our outdoor spaces into an episode of the Jerry Springer Show (r.i.p.). Especially one that airs in the middle of the night. Be a happy camper.

4. MAKE UP (AND OUT) - OBNOXIOUSLY LOUD

Around 5:30 a.m., tranquility finally returned to Proud Lake's Modern Campground. My neighbors' high beams and speakers had remained off for several hours now. The yelling had receded to spiteful-yet-hushed utterances. And finally, by the grace of God, serene silence prevailed just as the dawn sky started to glow around my tent.


"Okay, finally," I thought to myself as I rolled over on my air mattress. "A few hours of sleep is better than nothing."


Literally the moment that I was about to fall asleep, however, my ears picked up on a very particular set of sounds. Originating from my neighbors' tent. That were very much the opposite of the fighting words that had plagued the night just hours before.


Yup. They were doing exactly what you're thinking of, but with every intention of alerting the entire campground.


Look, we're not prudes here at Expedition Detroit. The beauty of nature can invoke passion within all of us. We're simply advocating for discretion - especially if camping amidst a family environment with, again, zero noise insulation.

5. LEAVE YOUR UNATTENDED FIRE BURNING ALL NIGHT

This is the ultimate proverbial middle finger to your fellow campers, park service personnel, and the environment. As we're all painfully aware, the Detroit region has suffered from dystopian air quality over the past several months due largely to wildfires. Yes, wildfires do have an important place in certain natural ecosystems, but wildfire maintenance corps typically monitor and control such naturally-occurring phenomena.


Man-made wildfires - regardless of whether started inadvertently or negligently - often cause the widespread destruction that we've grown accustomed to as of late. With regard to campfires, the U.S. Forest Service has spoken ad nauseam about the best practices for starting AND extinguishing campfires. These include drowning the coals out with enough water to ensure that the coals are extinguished (i.e., no more hissing sound), stirring the water with a shovel or stick into a soupy mix, and not leaving until the exterior of the fire ring is cool enough to touch.


WHATEVER YOU DO, please do NOT head to your tent with open flames still burning bright. Nobody wants to wake up to a still-smoldering fire coupled with a DNR citation at your campsite. As well as surrounded by several very, very unhappy campers.

 

Although we at Expedition Detroit largely gear this platform towards topics that are inspiring, positive, and opportunistic within our region's outdoors, we felt it necessary to deviate off course for this article. Other than its hopeful entertainment value - who doesn't enjoy a good misadventure story? - we wanted to remind our outdoor community that its future depends on its current members. Us. The recreational enthusiasts that flock to the Detroit region's trails, waterways, parks, and campgrounds.


Did this particular couple arrive at Proud Lake looking to ruin their campsite neighbors' experience? I sincerely hope not, but their complete lack of self-awareness and obnoxious behavior turned several happy campers into sleep-deprived adversaries. Worse yet, their behavior may have left a materially-detrimental impression on other aspiring recreationists that had the misfortune of camping within their vicinity that night.


Every time that we venture into Detroit's outdoors, let's aim to "Leave No Trace" - both in terms of our impact on the environment and on each other. If we are to succeed in our mission of supporting Detroit as a world-class outdoor destination, then the first step involves holding ourselves to a standard of world-class outdoor enthusiasts.


Thanks for reading. We can't wait to see you on the trail.

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