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Campers answer the call of the wild

With pricey vacations outside the budget, families pack up for fun in the outdoors

POSTED: July 1, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Brent Troncalli, owner of The Outside World in Dawsonville, is noticing a trend with his business this year. Whenever families spend less on traveling and big vacations, sales for camping go up.


“During a little bit of a recession, you always see a resurgence in family camping,” said Troncalli, whose store specializes in camping, hiking, kayak and other outdoor products. “It’s pretty inexpensive to take your family camping, and it’s still something great to do on spring or summer break.”


With Lake Lanier’s water level rising and the Northeast Georgia mountains next door, more area residents are opting to save money and head to the nearby outdoors for leisure rather than pay a hefty fee to travel elsewhere.


“Reservations at state and national parks are way up this year,” Troncalli said. “Less families are going to big, expensive, exotic places.”


Many of Troncalli’s customers from Atlanta and southward tend to use Lanier as their getaway due to its numerous campsites with access to the lake itself. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages several different campgrounds, with 647 campsites among them; in all, 565 have water and electric hookups.


“Lake Lanier is definitely going to be popular,” Troncalli said. “It seems like a lot of people want to go north, so people who live in Columbus or Atlanta want to come to Lake Lanier.”


The Corps of Engineers’ campgrounds vary in price, based on how primitive the campsite is. A basic setup with a tent and no power can cost $15 per night, while a full setup with power costs as much as $25 per night.


Group campsites designed for 60 or more people come with power hookups and an assembly shelter. They cost $150-$170 a night.


“If depends on the type of camping you’re doing,” Troncalli said. “If you’re in a tent, you’ll probably have a primitive campsite with just running water. If you have an RV, you’re going to want electricity, water and sewage.”


According to Troncalli, residents already living near the lake tend to go to campgrounds in the mountains, such as Vogel State Park, Unicoi State Park and Amicalola Falls. State parks offer more activities, such as canoeing and hiking.


“The most popular is always the state parks,” Troncalli said. “There’s plenty of activities to do there. They seem to be a little bit more family-oriented.”


More experienced campers in the area typically head north for purposes other than camping itself, such as backpacking and kayak fishing.


Whitewater is also popular on the rivers in the mountains. Troncalli’s store gives lessons in its one-of-a-kind indoor training pool, which emits jets of water that simulate real river rapids.


“We probably teach about 400 classes a year inside the store,” Troncalli said. “It leads a lot of customers into outdoor classes.”


Regardless of what activities are done while camping, Troncalli stresses the low prices of relaxing in the great outdoors, as compared to an expensive vacation.


“When you consider how much it costs a family to go to Disney World, you can’t even compare the price to canoeing, fishing or hiking,” Troncalli said. “I’d rather go to the mountains anyway.”


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