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Home away from home

Posted August 12, 2015 in Community Cover Story, Norwalk

Some of Amy Paulsen’s earliest memories are camping as a child, which is why she was excited to start the tradition with her own two children.

“I thought: ‘I want to teach the kids how to camp because we like the outdoors,’ ” she recalls.

Amy Paulsen and her boyfriend Scott Eftink stand in the doorway of their hybrid camper with her children, Breana and Logan, both 13. The family enjoys camping at county and state parks and the Iowa State Fair. They prefer to travel via camper on most vacations, recently taking one to St. Louis. Photo by Melissa Walker.

Amy Paulsen and her boyfriend Scott Eftink stand in the doorway of their hybrid camper with her children, Breana and Logan, both 13. The family enjoys camping at county and state parks and the Iowa State Fair. They prefer to travel via camper on most vacations, recently taking one to St. Louis. Photo by Melissa Walker.

Paulsen and her two children started with tent camping. Then they found a small pop-up camper they could afford and used it for many years. About three or four years ago, she and boyfriend Scott Eftink sold her camper and bought a larger, hybrid camper.

Now Paulsen and Eftink with her two kids, twins Logan and Breana, 13, travel most of the time via camper.

“It’s a lot cheaper than getting a hotel because a lot of places are $20 or $30 a night, and you cook your own food, so it’s a lot cheaper than eating out,” Paulsen says.

Rick and Donna Bussanmas’ camping adventures started with tent camping before their children were even born, more than 39 years ago. They eventually graduated to a camper but gave up camping as their children grew older and became more involved in sports and other activities.

Once Rick retired and the kids were grown and gone, they begin to get interested in camping again. That was about 15 or 20 years ago. Since then, they’ve had four pull-behind campers, the most recent a Denali travel trailer.

Norwalk families enjoy escapes to warmer weather, county and state parks, the state fair

For several winters, the Bussanmases traveled to Rockport, Texas, near Corpus Christi from mid-January until mid-February or mid-March.

They stayed in a campground that had a clubhouse where they could have dinner, watch movies or play cards and other games.

“We loved that,” Donna recalls of the area. “The warmth was wonderful in the winter.”

The couple’s 29.5-foot travel trailer has all of the amenities of home, including a microwave and refrigerator, so they had no problem making it their winter home for a few months.

Donna Bussanmas with her family’s 29.5-foot travel trailer. She and her husband, Rick, have camped off and on for more than 39 years. Photo by Melissa Walker.

Donna Bussanmas with her family’s 29.5-foot travel trailer. She and her husband, Rick, have camped off and on for more than 39 years. Photo by Melissa Walker.

“Our camper is big enough that we didn’t have any trouble at all. Rick calls it my mobile house,” Donna says with a laugh.

The Texas trips were rarities, though Donna would love to go back. Most of the time the couple camps at nearby parks. They enjoy Winterset City Park and Pammel State Park in Madison County. The Middle River flows through the area, and Donna enjoys kayaking when they go camping.

Other favorite campgrounds include Yellow Banks Park in Runnells and Lake Ahquabi State Park in Indianola. She likes to camp in wooded areas where campers have their own space and campsites aren’t located too close together.

The couple also usually camps with two other couples: a couple they graduated high school with, and Rick’s sister and her husband. Although they enjoy camping, the Bussanmases prefer to do it in nice weather. The men prefer to sit around, relax and take naps, while the ladies shop in the nearby local towns or go kayaking. They’ll sometimes have a campfire at night. The men aren’t as much into camping as their wives, and Rick doesn’t like to be hot; he’d rather stay home in the air conditioning.

“We’re fair-weather campers,” Donna admits.

But when they do vacation, they prefer to travel via their camper.

“We enjoy getting away,” Donna says. “The phone’s not ringing.”

Eftink, Paulen and her kids go camping almost every holiday weekend. They also show rabbits and camp at many county fairgrounds and when they travel for rabbit shows

Paulsen says she enjoys camping at state and county parks throughout Iowa and surrounding states. Backbone State Park in Dundee is one of their favorites. She describes it almost as a natural park setting and environment. They’ve also camped in Minnesota, Nebraska and Missouri.

“We like to try new places, too,” Paulsen says.

The family likes state and county parks because there are trails to hike on and a lake or another body of water in which the kids can swim and fish. They’ve stayed at recreational vehicle parks, which Paulsen says are nice for the amenities such as a pool but often lack the trees, shade and trails that other parks provide.

“It kind of depends on what you’re interested in,” she says.

One of Paulsen’s favorite places to camp is a private lake they belong to near St. Mary’s that only has about 12 campsites and private access, so visitors are regulated and she doesn’t have to worry about strangers coming into the area. Logan and Breana like to swim in the lake and go fishing.

“It’s really quiet,” Paulsen says.

At the end of July, the family traveled to St. Louis for a vacation and camped at a campground on the border of Illinois.

“It was a lot cheaper to take the camper,” Paulsen says. “We love to camp.”

While the family enjoys the great outdoors, one of their favorite places to camp, is at the Iowa State Fair.

Eftink’s parents have a large recreational vehicle and have camped almost his entire life. They’ll travel south and stay at various RV parks along the way, where they’ve developed their own little community with the other campers and even have garage sales. His family also has had two campsites at the State Fairgrounds for 40 or 50 years.

For the past three years, Eftink and Paulsen have used the second campsite. The couple takes their camper to the site the Saturday before the fair begins and leaves it until the fair ends, per fairground regulations. They’ll take off the Thursdays and Fridays of the fair to show rabbits, watch the livestock shows and stay at the fairgrounds.

It’s definitely a different type of camping experience, Paulsen says.

“It’s a whole new world up there,” she says. “You have all of your friends. It’s like another whole family, kind of like a get-together, a big family reunion.”

Campers will decorate their campsites with lights or their theme or the state fair’s theme for the year.

“I’m hoping maybe we can think of something this year,” Paulsen says about decorating their camper and campsite.

Family enjoys benefits of camping over other travel methods

Paulsen says the ability to save money plus being in a natural setting is what draws her family to want to camp.

Before each camping trip, Paulsen makes a list of what the family will need: towels, washcloths, shower shoes if the site has a shower house, food, blankets, activities to keep them busy and chairs are among the staples.

Once the family arrives at their campsite, it takes about an hour to get everything set up and unloaded. They try to pick a level site and then use jacks to help level out the camper. They hook up to water and electricity if it’s provided. The sides of the camper are popped out, beds are unfolded, and their supplies are put up and stored so they can “live” in the camper during the duration of their vacation. They have a rug they put outside the camper door so they don’t get the grass muddy from traipsing back and forth. Chairs are set up.

Then it’s time to relax. Logan and Breana ride their bicycles or play games. Paulsen and Eftink sit back or take a walk. The family will plan their activities for the vacation. When they went to St. Louis, they planned their museum trips. Depending on how close the day’s activities are to the camper, they’ll either eat lunch at the campsite or at a restaurant. In the evening, they usually grill or cook over the campfire.

“It’s a lot cheaper as far as your gas and your hotel and eating,” she says. “Also we like the outdoors a lot. It gets you outdoors. You get to experience nature and whatever nature has for you. Plus, we can take our three dogs. If you deal with a hotel, you have to make sure the hotel will allow them.”





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