Butler County is full of family-friendly campgrounds
Todd Wehr remembers the summer of 1975 well. Wehr, a college student at the time, and his family were working hard, determined to open their new business – Bear Run Campground.
“We worked throughout the summer,” Wehr recalled. “Our goal was to open Labor Day Weekend. It was quite the test but we got it done.”
Sitting adjacent to Moraine State Park, the campground has grown extensively over the past 47 years, from 100-sites on opening day to 300 today. Bear Run is just one of many successful outdoor recreational or camping stories in Butler County. And while Labor Day will be here in less than a week, there is still more than a month left in Pennsylvania’s camping season.
The old business adage of location, location, location, fits the Butler County camping industry perfectly, as it has a near perfect mix when it comes to create a growing outdoor recreation industry. The region’s blend of green space and campgrounds, combined with a healthy dose of lakes, streams, hot fishing spots, some great attractions and wonderful restaurants makes for lots of family fun.
“The combination is fantastic,” said Jack Cohen, President of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau. “Butler County, Moraine State Park offer so much outdoor recreation – boating, fishing, hiking, and biking. And the great thing is we have so many great campgrounds that can support this type of traffic.”
Outdoor recreation is, indeed, big business in Butler, throughout Pennsylvania, and the U.S.
An economic study conducted by Southwick Associates for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, showed that in 2016, 370,000 Pennsylvania jobs were supported by outdoor recreation activities such as biking, camping, and off-roading.
The same study found that campgrounds in the commonwealth hosted just more than 3 million campers and produced almost 90,000 jobs, generating more than $3.8 million in salaries. That could buy a lot of s'mores.
And while the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and high inflation are reported daily, camping is one industry that has seen growth over the past 2-plus years. That’s on top of the growth camping has seen over the past decade.
According to the 2022 North American Camping report sponsored by Kampgrounds of America, Inc. the popularity of camping has grown from a pre-pandemic level of 42 million households taking at least one trip per year in 2019 to 48.2 million in 2020 and to nearly 57 million last year.
That trend is not lost on Wehr.
“Since COVID, many new people have started to camp,” Wehr said. “Overwhelmingly, they enjoy it. Our staff is extremely hospitable and has adapted to better understand the needs of inexperienced campers.”
Like many campgrounds in the area, Bear Run has many amenities such as a swimming pool, cabins, a large general store, recreation center, a clubhouse, and even covered basketball courts. And although there are lots of scheduled activities, Wehr said campers should not feel obligated to participate in all of them.
“We’re not out there at dawn blowing a whistle and waking everyone,” Wehr laughed. “Because many campgrounds have so many activities, there’s as much to do at campgrounds as you want to do. But we’re right next to Moraine with Lake Arthur and Butler County has so much to offer, so campers often explore outside the campground all day.”
Wehr says that over the past 47 years, the basics of camping have stayed the same but, as it is with most industries, technology has made an impact. Larger RVs with more bells and whistles are an obvious change. Additionally, according to both Wehr and the KOA report, having wi-fi helps today’s remote worker stay connected – and stay longer.
Still, as much as things change some things never change.
“Every day brings a new situation,” Wehr said. “But we work collectively as a staff, utilize technology, to make sure everyone’s camping experience is enjoyable.”