HILLMAN FERRY CAMPGROUND, LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, Ky. – A middle-aged man wearing khaki cargo shorts, flip-flops and a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap wheeled a golf cart into the parking lot of The Outpost and disappeared inside.
He emerged a few minutes later carrying two bags of ice and a small sack of groceries.
“Glad this place is here,” he yelled from the passing cart without slowing down. “Always seem to need something.”
The Outpost is the camp store that services Hillman Ferry, a 374-site campground that’s scattered along nearly 900 acres of rolling, timbered, postcard-pretty Kentucky Lake/Tennessee River shoreline. Earlier this month, during the Independence Day weekend, every site was occupied and the campground took on the look and feel of a self-contained small town, albeit one with an idyllic personality and a through-the-looking-glass persona.
On a quiet, post-holiday weekday afternoon about half the campsites were filled. Their occupants were a mixed bag: Families with young children. Apparent long-time retirees. Every age group in between.
Accommodations varied, too. A handful of tents were scattered among the trees but most of the filled campsites were anchored by travel trailers and RVs, including a few school bus-size units. Some featured portable satellite dishes. The quiet hum of air-conditioning units provided the background noise.
It was a transient city — quiet and clean, largely self contained yet portable in manicured surroundings. Twilight Zone-ish almost, but in a safe, comfortable, friendly sphere.
“I’ve never really heard it described that way,” said Jason Osborne. “But yeah, it is like a small city here. Especially during holiday weekends.”
Osborne is the assistant manager for Hillman Ferry, one of four fully developed U. S. Forest Service campgrounds inside the 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a popular camping, boating and hiking destination that spills across the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Hillman Ferry is also one of thousands of federal-owned/managed campgrounds across the country. Thousands more campgrounds are operated by national and state parks and other municipalities. Many offer creature comfort-level amenities. Others provide campers the bare boned necessities of chemical toilets a fire ring. Privately run campgrounds also abound.