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How’d you like to camp in a shipping container?

container10Forget the tent. When you go camping in a King County park, you could soon be sleeping in a shipping container instead.

Many people don’t know the parks department maintains 26,000 acres of open space, including a beautiful campground at the base of the Cascades in Carnation at the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Tolt Rivers. And both the campsites and rental yurts are sold out most of the summer.

“One of the things we’ve seen is significant demand for close in camping,” says program manager Sujata Goel.

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She says the goal of the department is to create more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, but a lot of people don’t want to go miles into the mountains, or drop hundreds of dollars for tents and stuff at REI.

So when some people saw a bunch of old shipping containers stacked up at the Port of Seattle going unused, an idea was born. Turn them into places to camp.

But being Seattle, they couldn’t just throw some empty metal shell in the woods with a cot. They had to be cool, comfortable, clean and of course, green. So they launched a contest called “Little footprint Big forest,” and over a dozen designs came in from all over the world.

Listen to King County wants you to camp out, in a cargo container

Sustainable design was a big part of all the entries. Goel says that includes both outside and in, from recycled woods to low emission paints and sealants to solar power. And Goel says she’s excited that many of the designs came from small, local companies instead of big firms.

With the county facing huge budget cuts because of a massive revenue shortfall, it would be easy to criticize the effort. But Goel insists it’ll pay for itself in short order.

The contest required designs cost no more than $10,000 to implement. A local shipping firm has agreed to donate at least four surplus containers. And she says nightly rental fees paid by campers should cover the costs in one year (the parks department currently charges $50 a night to rent yurts at the Tolt-McDonald campground.)

“We are a revenue generating agency,” Goel says. “And it’s something we always look at when we build a new amenity. Is it self-sustaining?”

A panel of judges will pick the winner, which will be announced September 14th. The first camping containers should be available for rent next summer. And before anyone makes fun of the container campers, Goel says it’s important to remember not everyone wants to sleep on the cold, hard ground under a blue tarp.

“We’re trying to create the next generation of park users. And so part of this was how do we create something innovative, interesting and accessible so people have the opportunity to go out there and see that really it (camping) is not so scary.”

Josh Kerns, 97.3 KIRO FM

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