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Camping at national parks declines

The number of overnight camping stays in national parks has declined in the past 15 years.

Some 7.91 million overnight camping stays were recorded in 2013. That's down from more than 9.2 million stays in 1998.

The statistics include tent camping as well as RVs, backcountry camping and stays in campgrounds operated by concessions.

Camping and overall park visitation is affected by everything from the weather to the economy.

In 2013, visitation to national parks was hurt by the government shutdown in October. Overall, national park visits were down 3 percent in 2013 from 2012.

National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson says more lodging options near parks is also a major factor in the long-term decline. Gateway communities have become savvier about offering hotels, motels, food and entertainment to visitors heading into the parks. It's become easier for visitors to spend the day inside a park and then get a comfy bed, maybe with Wi-Fi and cable TV, at night in a nearby town.

Bad weather -- ranging from hurricanes to wildfires -- also affects numbers, both by closing parks and keeping people home.

Studies conducted by the Outdoor Foundation, which promotes outdoor recreation for the industry, also have shown year-over-year declines in camping. A 2013 report sponsored by the foundation and the Coleman Co. cited "a lack of time due to work and family commitments" as the No. 1 reason for the slump.

Olson agreed, saying, "The two-week vacation has gone by the wayside." -- AP

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