Danny and Annette Smith don't camp often.
But with local gas prices nearing $4 per gallon and two middle school-age children itching to get out of the house, the Rock Hill couple thought three days at Chester State Park would be an inexpensive, fun trip.
"We'd love to go see our family in Minnesota this summer," Annette Smith said this week, as she sat near the fire at her family's camp site. "But gas is just crazy."
The Smiths aren't alone. As fuel costs hit record highs, activity has picked up at area state parks and sales have jumped at outdoor supply businesses.
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People who would normally drive farther for a vacation are looking for alternatives. Some are finding a few nights a local campground or some paddling on the Catawba River to be cheaper, yet enjoyable time off.
"This year, they're calling it the 'un-cation,' meaning people aren't really taking the vacation they were," said David Shook, co-owner of Old Town Outfitters in Rock Hill.
"They're just doing things that are here, say, within 100 miles of the house," Shook said. "For us, it's been a lot of people coming in going, 'Where can I camp locally that's not more than an hour away?'"
Shook said more people are asking about kayaks this year. His business does regular kayak demonstrations at Andrew Jackson State Park, and he said he's had more interest in those presentations. Every time he's gone, he said, the campground has been packed, which wasn't the case last year.
Several area state parks are seeing double-digit increases in camping. From July 2007 through May, Andrew Jackson State Park rented 34 percent more camp sites than during that same span a year before. Chester State Park saw a 19 percent jump, and Kings Mountain State Park was up 12 percent.
While higher gas prices have hurt South Carolina tourism in different areas, the state parks have been somewhat insulated from those pains, said Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
That's partly because the parks aren't as dependent on out-of-town visitors as are beach hotels, he said. Americans value their vacations, taking what free time they can even if it means choosing a cheaper alternative.
"Before they're gonna forego doing it at all," Edmonds said, "what they're gonna do is say, 'Alright, what are the ways I can still accomplish my goal of getting a chance to get away with the family, to decompress, to have some quality time together and do it within our budget?'"
For Charlotte Kilpatrick, summertime usually means making several trips to Charleston and paddling in the Lowcountry. But this year, the Rock Hill kayaker plans to spend most of her time cruising local waters.
"Gas has just gotten so ridiculous," Kilpatrick said this week during a post-work stop at Old Town Outfitters. "I'd have to think twice (about traveling)."
Ted Cole doesn't know if a sluggish economy has encouraged more people to pursue outdoor activities. But the owner of Ted's Hunting & Fishing in Clover said he's selling more fishing gear than his 5-year-old business ever has.
"It's just making kind of a comeback," he said. "I've sold enough live worms to supply York County, I believe."
Usually, he said, June and July are tight months for Ted's because of summer vacations and the absence of a major hunting season. Not this year.
Just last week, Cole said, some grandparents came to the store with their two grandsons. They bought fishing poles, hooks, weights and worms.
"They was going to a pond that day," he said. "It was like a family vacation, if you'd a seen how excited them two little fellas was."