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Camping craze across the DMV leaves parks full, farm hosts ready to fill the need

National Park campgrounds are booked months in advance, as RV travelers continue to seek solutions at local farms, vineyards and breweries.

LURAY, Va. — Shenandoah National Park superintendent Pat Kenney offered a warning as Washington area residents going through an outdoor recreation boom prepare for the summer of 2021.

“Pack your patience,” Kenny Warned.

“I guess when I look back at 2020 I never would have anticipated that we would have seen such a high level of visitation.”

Kenney reports the park saw a 50% increase in visitors in October of 2020 -- that trend continued into the spring with a 20% bump in April.

Campers report it is nearly impossible to get a weekend reservation for a campsite or lodge room without booking months in advance.

Eighty percent of weekend reservations are already booked through Labor Day, according to Kenney. The crush at Shenandoah's campgrounds is being mirrored at both state and national parks throughout the region, according to the RV Industry Association -- which is reporting a record-setting boom in sales of recreational vehicles.

The association expects more than 507,000 units will be shipped by manufacturers in 2021.

Campers looking for alternatives to full parks are increasingly turning to online marketplaces like Harvest Hosts, which matches its 180,000 members with nearly 2400 farmers, wine-makers and brewers who are offering campsites on their picturesque properties, according to Harvest Hosts marketing vice president Bill Zhang.

There are dozens of properties hosting campers in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, according to Harvest Hosts' website, which maps locations for members.

Among the property owners are farm operators Seth and Stephanie Furches who raise heritage livestock on their property named "Redemption Springs" near Westminster Maryland.

"We figure we have a really nice pretty farm here, and people are looking for a place to stay,” Seth Furches said.

Harvest Host guests are encouraged to support their hosts by purchasing products from the farm.

Camper Heike Massengale enjoyed farm-fresh eggs for breakfast, as the chickens that produced them scratched through the pasture that served as the view from her campsite.

"When you go to a campground you're side-by-side with other campers," Massengale said.   

"But this is like a real camping experience.  It's quiet.  You don't really have neighbors.  You can interact with your hosts if you want to, but if you want your privacy, you've got your privacy."

Harvest Hosts doubled its membership in the five months after May 2020, Zhang said.   That number doubled again since September, he reported.

Zhang says the COVID crisis created a huge new demand for outdoor recreation and travel that avoids airports and crowded resorts.

"A lot of the population rediscovered how beautiful America is and how much there is to see right here in our backyard," Zhang said.

At the Shenandoah National Park, managers are urging summer visitors to consider weekday visits where crowds are much lighter than weekends. Only 40% of the park's weekday camping and lodging reservations are booked and chances are better for being able to find one of the park's 297 first-come-first-served campsites, according to the superintendent.

Shenandoah has a total of 635 campsites at four major campgrounds.

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