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The Lavish Outdoors

Guests at a glamping site just outside Moab National Park.

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 29, 2017) — When you combine glamorous with camping, you get “glamping,” and a UAlbany junior has depicted in an national journal why environmentalists and traditional campers aren’t thrilled with the trend.

History major Alex Marinides published "The Case Against Glamping on Public Lands: Do High-End Campsites Undermine the Spirit of National Parks?” in an August article for the Earth Island Journal. The piece drew from research he began in his fall 2016 “American Environmental History” course, taught by Chris Pastore.

Marinides explores the development of “luxury camping outfitters,” which are now infiltrating U.S. national parks. For fees ranging anywhere from $175 to $3,999 per night, visitors stay in well-appointed campsites featuring hotel-like accommodations such as flat-screen TVs, chef-prepared meals, king-size beds, in-tent delivery of hot chocolate every morning and Epsom Salt footbaths each night, and even maid service.

Alex Marinides UAlbany History major

Alex Marinides

“I got interested in the subject and was inspired by some reading I did in class, as well as by stuff I read outside of it relating to the environmental movement,” said Marinides. “The topic of my final paper was development in public lands, and about half to two-thirds of the Earth Island Journal article was based on that section of the paper, so the article grew out of that.”

His article illustrates how 38 different companies have jumped into the glamping industry, competing to one-up each other when it comes to comfort and luxury. And he also details how several people, such as outdoors writer Christopher Solomon (“It’s the worst thing to happen to public parks since poison ivy”) and Upstate New York conservationist John Sheehan hope to limit glamping’s expansion.

Marinides himself writes “the great outdoors is at risk of becoming just another escape or amusement for the rich, while the middle-and-lower classes are shut out.” He notes that “the nation’s parks are fundamentally a populist creation. The land they sit on was set aside to that all Americans would have the opportunity to see and experience the great outdoors, their natural heritage.”

While glamping’s greatest incursion is in parks run by states, whose budgets have seen significant cuts to their park systems, luxury camping can now be found in national parks such as Grand Tetons, Zion, Glacier and the Grand Canyon. The concern, being realized to some degree, is that glamping sites are taking up areas that modest-income camping lovers once enjoyed.

Public parks, writes Marinides, represent “a place for all people, no matter who they are or how wealthy they may be, to set up a tent or check into cabins side by side with each other, and to enjoy nature as it is meant to be enjoyed — without special treatment.”

Despite the fact Marinides describes himself as a lifelong lover of the environment, “passionate about the issue of development, commodification, and in some cases ‘Disney-fication’ of public lands,” he fills the proper historian/journalist role in the article by fairly gathering the viewpoints of glamping industry representatives.

All in all, an excellent start for the young historian, who recommends Pastore’s course to anyone interested in history, even if environmental history isn’t their main interest.

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