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Living outside for the summer

When Ariel Caulkins lost her Rogue River home to foreclosure, instead of finding a rental immediately, she opted to camp for the summer to save money.

A few paces from where her spacious dome tent is pitched at the Jackson Wellsprings outside Ashland, a group of 20-something Californians gathered around a picnic table, making jewelry Tuesday. They also decided to spend their summer camping so they could see the Pacific Northwest.

Nearby, in tents and RVs, families, retirees and pet dogs are also living outdoors this summer.

Whether to save money, travel or experience nature, a number of people have ditched their winter housing to spend the warmer months camping in Jackson County, especially near Ashland. They have become voluntarily, temporarily homeless, and their numbers are growing, as the economy impacts traditional vacation opportunities, campers and camp managers said.

"People come for all different reasons — everything you can think of," said Jennifer Ouimette, Wellsprings office manager. "We have young, little hippie kids next to retired adults. It's really diverse."

Many of the campers have housing, either of their own or with family, but they rent it out or lock it up during the summer to travel and spend time outdoors, she said.

That's the case for Molly and Uri Rubio, a young married couple from Santa Barbara, Calif., who are spending the summer traveling throughout Oregon and Washington. They decided to let friends stay at their house while they attended festivals and sold their jewelry in cities across the two states.

"It's all about the experience," Molly said. "We meet different people and go to places we've never been and have fun."

Their jewelry sales pay for their camping expenses, enabling them to not worry about finances while they're on the road, Uri said.

"We travel and live outside in the summer because we don't want any stress in the summer," he said. "We've got stress all the time the other nine months of the year."

Other people, such as Caulkins, have given up or lost their housing, but aren't planning to find a new arrangement until fall.

"This is my home — my tent," she said. "It's been an amazing experience to be living outside like this as opposed to living out of a motel when you're traveling or in transition."

Caulkins said she has met people from all walks of life at the campground, from those attending conferences in Ashland to those who are on the brink of homelessness.

"There's people on vacation and families with children and pets," she said. "Then there's people who are just traveling and other people who are looking for housing."

In addition to the Wellsprings, summerlong campers can be found at Glenyan Campground near Emigrant Lake, as well as other campgrounds throughout the county and state, said Ouimette. At the Wellsprings, campers typically stay anywhere from a few days to a few months, often traveling to other nearby sites to pitch their tents or park their RVs, she said.

If people want to stay beyond 21 days, they have to pass a Wellsprings background check, and then they are offered a lower rate.

Short-term tent campers pay $20 per night or $22.50 with electricity. People can also rent teepees for about $10 more a night. RV sites cost $25 per night. Campers have access to the Wellsprings' showers, pool and hot springs.

The Wellsprings typically has fewer than five campers in the colder months, but in the summer time as many as 70 tents can dot the fields on the 30-acre property, Ouimette said.

Some of the campers have elaborate set-ups, including camp stoves and mini fridges they plug in using extension cords.

Caulkins, 55, has a cot in her four-person tent, as well as a makeshift nightstand that holds eating utensils, books and a flashlight. Most of her belongs are in a storage unit for the summer.

"I have a pretty minimal set-up compared to a lot of people," she said, "but it works for me."

Caulkins has enjoyed her experience at the Wellsprings so much, she hopes to be one of the few dozen people to live there year-round in an RV or mobile home, she said.

"I'm hoping that works out," she said, "because this is a wonderful way of life."

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-776-4459 or email hguzik@mailtribune.com.

Ariel Caulkins sits outside of her temporary summer housing Tuesday at Jackson Wellsprings in Ashland. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore