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  • Heading Out: A History of American Camping by Terence Young
  • Rachel Gross
Young, Terence. Heading Out: A History of American Camping. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017. Pp. xi+367. Illustrations, endnotes, and index. $35.00, hb.

The most important claim of Terence Young's history of camping in modern America, Heading Out, is that camping did not "have its roots in nature" (303). Instead, Young argues, camping reflects the cultural impulse to get away and "return with a difference" (297). The book covers such a broad range of activities that participants from different eras would hardly have recognized each other as part of the same trend. After all, what did late-nineteenth-century Adirondack booster William H. H. Murray have in common with Airstream enthusiasts of the 1950s or backpackers on a long-distance trail in the 1970s? Yet, as Young demonstrates in his impressively researched book, these disparate practices were united by the desire to "escape from the routine and restrictions of ordinary life by temporarily stepping out of their urban lives [and] into the world of nature" (209). Nineteenth-century urban elites sought physical transformation, hoping to return to the city red-cheeked and muscular after a month in the woods. State department employees on grand tours of the United States in trailers sought insight into the "real America" on their journeys (20). Both, Young convincingly argues, were pilgrims, seeking to come away from their journeys through "sacred space," both "physically and spiritually renewed" (209).

In addition to pilgrimage, Young argues that American campers' experience reflects the process of "McDonaldization" that touched all of American society. Young applies sociologist George Ritzer's concept of modernization to the ways that outdoor companies, environmental managers, and participants themselves made camping more efficient, calculable, predictable, and controlled. Over and over, Young found, Americans expressed little concern that the plush beds they purchased in anticipation of trips would in any way detract from their pilgrimage. Readers who are also camping enthusiasts will likely recognize some long-standing impulses in their own practices: wherever people camped, they tried to "smooth the roughness" of the outdoors with new technology (211).

Rather than writing an exhaustive history of camping, Young traces the origins of camping culture to the Adirondacks in the late nineteenth century and then selects different episodes to explore the gradual McDonaldization of camping. Chapter 1 situates the origins of American camping with a guidebook that enticed New Yorkers to head to the woods in 1869. Chapter 2 uses the canoe trip of historian Frederick Jackson Turner and his wife Caroline Mae Turner to explore the "art of camping": the necessary tools and gadgets to make for a more comfortable, efficient trip. The third chapter attributes the expansion of camping to the automobile, using Coleman company records to show how this generation of campers sought to "smooth it" with the help of lanterns and kits that transformed back seats into camp beds.

Young uses seemingly mundane details to link everyday users' experiences of camping with broad debates about environmental management and modern society. One such example is the one-way road of American auto-campgrounds in Chapter 4. Young argues that automobiles led to both the democratization of outdoor sports and environmental destruction. Campers damaged soil and trees while driving over roots or parking in meadows [End Page 274] and also contaminated water sources. Around 1930, "forest pathologist" E. P. Meinecke developed a solution for the haphazard design of campgrounds in state parks, national parks, and forests. It helped establish standard one-way roads (to prevent plant damage), parking spots (to control user access), and standard-level camping area, fire pit, and picnic table—all effectively giving campers the feeling of privacy even as the carefully planned campgrounds packed bigger crowds in than before. The Meinecke Plan, Young shows, brought the logic of urban planning to the forest.

Succeeding chapters offer similarly vivid anecdotes, even as there is little overarching narrative linking chapters. Among the topics the book covers are the fight of William Trent Jr. and others against segregated campgrounds and picnic facilities in Shenandoah National Park; RV and trailer owners who sought to build a home away from...


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pp. 274-275
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