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I received some bad news. Camping ’t Riviertje is (now) a 50+ campsite. Only people aged 50 and over are welcome on the campsite. Families with children are not. Along with the ‘shock’ that accompanied this news was confusion. I’d visited last year, discussed my idea with them and had a tour of the farm. Their campsite has playgrounds and children are clearly seen playing on their promotional video. What happened?

There is a selfish reason behind my curiosity. The campsite is one of the better ones close to Amsterdam, and because of this we’d put it at the hub of several wandelroutes. Losing this campsite has big implications to the ROOTcamps! we have developed so far. It means we need to remake a lot of the website. It’s a lot of work, so I wrote to them to see if there was a possibility for an exception, particularly if parents promise to take responsibility for their children’s behaviour.

Een uitgebrande tent op een Paalcamping
Uitgebrand. Laat maar.

I wasn’t expecting a reply, and got straight into looking at new routes which I hope to publish soon. But it bugged me. I have never encountered a 50+ campsite before, the whole concept is unusual to me. Possibly why I never explicitly looked for signs or asked the question. It’s new to my Dutch wife also, and discussing it with a friend during a walk last night, he remarked, “isn’t that discrimination?”

Honestly, it is how it is. They are a private, family business and can do what they want. I immediately suspected the reasons behind the situation, maybe I was hoping to have this confirmed. My assumption was that families or younger groups had been inconsiderate and spoiled it for other more considerate campers and walkers. That, or fun-seeking backpacker tourists were using it as a cheap way to access the unique offerings of Amsterdam. Sure enough, when the reply came, this was the reason;

“…Our experience is that parents make these promises but that seldom works… and children are not dolls and need their own space”.

This is something that I’ve been discussing with my wife for quite some time. Parenting in the Age of Entitlement. Children who are being treated like adults but who are emotionally unequipped and too immature to handle the responsibility and freedoms given to them. Parentification, what happens in the opposite direction. I’m going to start writing about this in relation to walking in future posts.

I understand why the campsite has decided to do this, I really do. While 90% of camping families might cause no problems, that 10% of parents who cannot control their kids are just too risky to allow onto the campsite for the guaranteed harmony of other campers. I absolutely see myself going to this campsite (in a few years time), secure in the knowledge that I won’t be disturbed by families or teenagers who don’t know how to behave. But this triggers a lot of thoughts.

What I’m annoyed with is a loss of personal freedom that I’m not responsible for. I might actually go and find out exactly what happened because I’m a curious type, but clearly they were once open to families and children. My ‘freedoms’ and those of my children are being reduced as a result. These restrictions and closing down of campsites is something I’m encountering more frequently wherever I go.

Paalcampings

Coming from New Zealand I’ve always enjoyed ‘wild’ camping. After a while in The Netherlands I was made aware of Paalcampings and thought these were great. They were much like the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites we have in New Zealand. I thought that these should be promoted, and that the Staatsbosbeheer should open more.

Of course there are rules on Paalcampings, but those rules are there to make sure they’re fairly accessible to everyone. Only three tents within 10 meters of the pole. No open fires. Take all your garbage with you. A maximum of three nights for any stay. I actually thought this should be one night to make availability more likely for hikers arriving the following day. Three nights are too many, they attract people looking for a longer stay, and block those passing through.

Normal, obvious rules. With the exception of the open fires, these were rules I grew up with, found normal and accepted. I think open fires are also now forbidden in New Zealand; drier forests as a result of Global Heating makes it too risky. But even beyond the rules were ‘unwritten rules’. We would break camp early to make space, clean up, stack some extra firewood for the people coming behind us, and make sure the campsite was left in as good a condition, or better, than the way we found it. This was a social norm, a part of the culture of camping.

Paalcampings are great, not only because they’re free, but because they allow the closest experience to wild camping and the potential to develop a respect for nature. The fact that they’re provided free is a fantastic reason to respect them and look after them.

When I started the WandelROOTS! project with the kids, I had the idea to stay at a few during a multi-day hike I was planning over the Utrechtse Heuvelrug from Arhnem to Amsterdam. However, when researching, I discovered that two of the Paalcampings, one at Austerlitz and the other at Lage Vuursche, had been closed due to mass tourism and inconsiderate behaviour. I was disappointed and let the Staatsbosbeheer know.

This was a few months ago. Being curious, I Googled why they had been closed and found a few articles. The most ‘polite’ reasons were that it has become too busy and crowded. I get it. There are 17.2 million people in The Netherlands and there were only about 20 Paalcampings in the country. Getting a spot on one during the peak season was highly unlikely.

A reason why I thought people should move on after one night. Staying three nights I considered to be selfish. Yes, three nights is ’the rule’, but sometimes we have to choose go beyond the rules for the greater good.

More direct reasons were vandalism, cutting down trees to make fires, transporting ‘stuff’ in using means other than carrying by foot, leaving rubbish behind and noisy teenagers who were using the campsites for parties. While all of these are a shame and show no respect or consideration, one story that caught my attention was a tent that had caught fire, and was abandoned there by the owner. It reminds me of the mess left behind in the parks of Amsterdam almost every night. Someone else will clean it up. And why care for things when they’re so cheap? Tents and camping equipment have become disposable.

A fellow camper kindly cleaned up the mess, but made the mistake of posting the experience online. By sharing the incident, it became more widely known. I’m wondering whether they, and others who have posted images of the garbage left behind, hoped social outrage and pressure, ‘naming and shaming’ would influence the behaviour of visitors into camping more responsibility. I don’t think people have much ‘shame’ any more.

I just, right now, checked the Staatsbosbeheer website. I am shocked to see that ALL Paalcampings in The Netherlands are permanently closed. Shocked and extremely disappointed, but it doesn’t surprise me.

When ‘free’ society doesn’t govern itself responsibly, regulation eventually steps in. Slowly we are losing our freedoms as a result of the inconsiderate behaviour of a few. Activities that were once free will now cost you and future generations. Financial expense is the modern stick that gets used to bring anything and everything back into line. I don’t think this is the answer. All this leads to is accessibility only for those who can afford it.

This track’s a dead end. We have to backtrack and find a different way. We have to address the unacceptable behaviour that is becoming common in modern society at the source. I’m going to start talking about Parenting.

Perhaps we should close down the National Parks to the under 50-year-olds and families, and then re-open the Paalcampings therein. Just an idea I got from somewhere.

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