There goes the tent!

Packed into the car, Brandie and Emma enjoyed camping despite the rain

For those of you who doubt that you can fit two people, two large dogs and a week’s worth of camping gear into a Prius, let me assure you that it is not only possible, but quite comfortable. Thus, with our car pointed towards the East Coast and a vague idea of what we might do when we got there, my mom and I set out last week to visit the three remaining states I had never yet seen. We nipped off the tip of New Jersey as we crossed a toll bridge from Pennsylvania in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, making sure to stop for lunch along the way so that we could consider the state officially visited. From one side of Connecticut to the other was a relatively short drive, though you would never have known it with all the traffic along the way. Mystic, the last city you pass through on the eastern edge of the state seemed to be one of the few places worth stopping. We took a quick break to stretch our legs and before we knew it were in Rhode Island, the final state missing from my list.

In Rhode Island, we headed for Burlingame State Park, where we planned to camp for a night or two. After learning that there were 800 campsites in the park, however, we decided that one night would be plenty. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision, because not five minutes after we pulled into our campsite, humongous black storm clouds came racing across the sky carrying whipping winds along with them. I had already rolled the tent out and staked it to the ground but didn’t have the chance to raise the polls before we made a mad dash to the car. Breathing a sigh of relief, we sat inside the parked car as the rain poured down. Then, we looked back toward the tent. In only a matter of minutes, two rivers had formed through the middle of our campsite, one burying the tent at least a foot deep in water. By the time the storm had passed over half an hour later, the tent had filled up like a giant waterbed and was covered in mud and debris. Down the way, it was even worse for others in the campground. At least a donzen sites had been transformed into lakes, and one family was stranded on top of their picnic table under a tarp with an expanse of standing water at least 20 feet wide between them and their car.

Now, anyone who has ever camped knows that tents need rain just as much as peanut butter needs jelly. However, I’ve become accustomed to the state park campgrounds in Minnesota and Wisconsin where DNR planners have put a little advanced thought into siting the campsites so that no one wakes up in the middle of a river. Most campsites I’ve stayed at are situated on high ground, out of drainage pathways, and some have elevated tent pads or trenches dug around the area to keep unsuspecting campers dry. Perhaps with 800 campsites to build, the folks in Rhode Island just stopped worrying about the details?

While our parks might be dry, some people living in our area have had similar experiences in their own backyards. For eight years, we had unusually dry weather and now this year we have gone to the opposite extreme, with weekly storms dumping several inches of rain at a time. Consequently, many people have found that their backyards are beginning to look a lot more like marshes. In some cases, homes were built near wetlands with only small areas for traditional lawns. After a few years of drought, however, these wetlands had either receded or dried up completely, lending the false impression that there was more usable land than there actually was. In other neighborhoods, developers changed the natural topography of the land when they built the roads and homes, causing water to gather in places it might not have originally.

Unfortunately, it is a little harder to deal with excess water in your backyard than in your campsite. When the rain let up in Rhode Island, my mom and I unzipped the tent, let the water out and set it up on higher ground to dry out. Then we hightailed it to Cape Cod, where our campsite stayed blissfully dry for the next two days. Obviously, though, this doesn’t work for local homeowners who are struggling to deal with a wet summer and soggy backyard. Usually, there is no easy way to get water out of your backyard once it is there, but there are a few options for dealing with the water more gracefully. The first option is to build one or more raingardens in upland areas on your property where rainwater can soak into the ground before it runs downhill into the backyard. This only works if the soil will absorb water, though, and not if the water is coming from your neighbors. If that is the case, you need to convince your neighbors to build raingardens. The second option, which is oftentimes the only one, is to accept your new wetland for what it is, plant it with flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees that like water and invite friends over to watch wildlife from your deck.

To learn more about building a raingarden or to find plants that grow well with wet feet, visit At the website you can also find local landscaping companies that specialize in this kind of work, as well as native plant retailers. If all else fails, there is always Cape Cod!