Amid pandemic, camping remains an escape

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
The Wagner and Martindale families, both of Jasper, eat dinner together at the Dubois County Park in Huntingburg on Saturday. Many families had to cancel or postpone their summer plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, camping reopened in the state Memorial Day weekend. “We camp any chance we get,” said Audrey Wagner. “The family time is so nice.”


HUNTINGBURG — No festivals. No playgrounds. No music concerts and no sports — at least not yet.

Widespread health guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 have dramatically altered the usually bustling late-spring weekends in Southwestern Indiana. One seasonal activity, however, has recently resumed.


This past weekend, campers and RVs flocked to Dubois County Park, as nature-lovers set out to spend time with family and friends in the shaded vehicle campsites. Nearly each of the 34 spots filled on both Friday and Saturday.

Shielded from the sun beneath a widespread canopy on Saturday evening, adults grilled food and chatted, and children playfully rode their bikes around a paved loop that encircles the campground.

Being outdoors helps them all unwind and relax. It also allows them to escape and still feel like part of a community.

Why does Trevor Bender, 6, like spending time outside?

Kids ride their bikes at the Dubois County Park in Huntingburg on Saturday.

“Because you might find animals, insects,” the boy said after telling of how he and other kids caught frogs together at the grounds on Friday evening. “And you can ride your bike or your scooter — whatever you have.”

Bob Gress, superintendent of the park, explained that spots have filled regularly since the season officially began on May 22. As part of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s “Back on Track Indiana” plan, campgrounds were permitted to open at that time with social distancing limitations and sanitation precautions in place.

Gress explained that at Dubois County Park, this means that distancing is promoted and bathrooms are cleaned twice daily. Playgrounds have yet to open at the site.

Families interviewed for this story were both relieved and excited when they got the OK to load up their vehicles and head to campsites.

“When they said these [campgrounds] could open, I think everybody felt relieved,” said Jordan Bender, who is Trevor’s mother. “Because you can’t do anything, and this is the only thing you can do, that you can actually take your kids out. They’re not confined to rooms.”

The pandemic has been taxing on Bender, who has five children between the ages of 9 months and 8 years old with her husband. At the park on Saturday, she detailed how, overnight, she became a teacher and a school counselor, requiring her to shift her parenting style to help her kids understand the ongoing pandemic and the importance of all the health precautions being stressed.

John Tetidrick of Brazil, Ind., center, his wife, Susie, and her sister, Lisa Smith of Jasper, sit together as their dinner finishes cooking at the Dubois County Park in Huntingburg on Saturday.

Camping melts the stress they all feel away. When the Benders return to their Huntingburg home, Mom recognizes how happy her kids are. She described their time in the woods as a “reboot.”

“I feel like getting them outside and camping with friends has helped get their mind off of it and do something that is normal for them,” she said. “That isn’t around a whole bunch of people.”

Nathan Hitt of Huntingburg shared how the weekend’s scarcity of available campsites wasn’t unique to Dubois County Park. Patoka Lake was booked over the weekend, as was Lincoln State Park, he said. Hitt pulled his camper out to the Huntingburg campgrounds on Thursday — just to make sure he got a spot.

Regulars who frequent the site comprise a community of their own. Campers spoke of how they have met and formed lasting bonds with each other, in spaces that are safe and allow their kids to just be kids.

“This is going to be an almost permanent fixture for us,” said Bender, whose family camped at Dubois County Park for the first time over the weekend. “I love this place.”

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