Dear R.V. Shrink:
Recently we arrived at a National Park campground and found it completely full. It was a Monday afternoon. This late in the season, just after the weekend, seemed like an odd time for a rather remote campground to be full. I was ready to leave to find another campground, but my wife insisted on further investigation. When she returned from a stroll around the campground she said several sites were "marked" suspiciously. Not one to enjoy any conflict, I suggested we just leave. My wife did not agree. She did another loop around the campground, found a post receipt not properly filled out and backed me into the site. No one ever challenged us, but the chair marking the site went missing in the dark of night.
As our neighbors arrived in the night, we noticed that they seemed to be related. We spent the next few days feeling like we were not welcome. I told my wife it was not worth the hassle to stay. She insists there are rules and if we have to practice combat camping she is more than willing to enlist her guerrilla warfare tactics to grab a piece of ground and defend it. Is this a normal attitude or should I get regular counseling for my wife?
--Gun Shy in Grand Forks
Dear Gun Shy:
Everyone comes with their own built-in computer program. It can be changed through relationship environments, and life experience, but there is still a basic programming that underlies all that is exposed at the surface. Kind of like a personal Windows program being run by an underlying DOS program you were born with. That is just a long way of saying you and your wife are both okay.
You don't like conflict and she embraces it. That sounds like a perfect traveling combination. Marking unpaid sites for friends is a very common practice, but not allowed in most campgrounds. Unlike coats over saved seats at the movie theater, you will find actual rules at the payment kiosk stating that reserving sites is not allowed. Therefore, you are within your rights to occupy an illegally reserved site if you can figure out which sites have been pirated. In your case, you have a spouse who can obviously sniff those sites out and ferret out the squatters. You are a lucky man. I'm going to guess your wife is a Virgo. They are known to turn chaos into complete order.
You have to decide on your own level of comfort. You don't want a real estate deal to go bad to the point of violence. Most of these situations turn out to be a severe case of stink-eye. Like the Cold War years, you want to keep things at the luke warm level so no one starts launching ICBMs (inter campground burnt marshmallows).
It is just human nature for good people to go bad when it comes to trying to save a campsite for Aunt Gertrude who drives slower than everyone else. Most of the time these people are peeking out of a nearby rig embarrassed about their act of civil disobedience. Once your wife challenges them, they are going to go immediately to plan B, how to get their chair back after sunset.
--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrin
The person that provided the fake reservation and chair may have been a next door neighbor that thought they deserved some extra space..
We have had our legally paid for and marked site, complete with tablecloth and table settings and a string with a sign on it across the entry, taken on more than one occasion. The park folks just say, "Too bad, pick another site." Now there is an occasion for the stink eye.
In the National Forest campgrounds of Michigan, you only need to occupy it WITHIN the first 24 hours. Sometimes people pay for a site, then go to fill water up or dump tanks or launch a boat before occupying their campsite. So the rule is first envelope in the tube is the one that gets the site.
That has happened to us.
I have a laminated sign I post on our site in that case, saying SITE OCCUPIED AND PAID FOR - BE RIGHT BACK
If you don't want neighbors to set up camp right next to you, just place a guitar or tuba on your picnic table. People will think twice.
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