It’s a Saturday morning in mid-July and Eric and Mindy Markman and their young kids hope to leave all their worries behind on a special campout at Silver Falls State Park.
“First and foremost it is about us getting together as a family on a weekend,” noted Eric. “Getting away from the city and getting into nature is a great experience for us too.”
“I want them to have an appreciation for nature,” added Mindy. “I want them to feel like they can set up the tent themselves and that it is fun to go camping.”
“Have fun and try not to make too much work” is a key message for the folks who signed up for the Oregon State Park program called “Let’s Go Camping.”
It’s a bit like a class in Camping 101 where no assumptions are made about your outdoor skills, abilities or experiences.
Oregon Parks and Recreation staff member, Kevin Farron, plus a core volunteer group operate 12 “Let’s Go Camping” seminars for campers at as many state parks through the summer.
“First, it’s a very close-knit family environment and we’re all camping together – but it’s not necessarily a summer camp, we don’t want parents to come out and unload their kids, that’s not the goal of the program.”
The goal is to introduce beginners to the techniques and equipment that many car campers (folks who stay in a tent rather than a trailer or RV) might consider for their own camping trip.
In fact, if you don’t own the gear that’s ok because they will loan you the tent, sleeping bags, pads and stoves to set you on the right path.
Eric Markman said the idea is perfectly suited to families that are trying to get their youngsters outdoors this summer.
“If you haven’t done much camping and you’re a little intimidated by it, it’s a great way to start. A low risk, highly educational and great family oriented approach to doing it.”
And the price is right too! This weekend, 8 families signed up for the overnight Silver Falls State Park session and each family paid just $20 to go to the camping school.
Park rangers also assist the class with lessons on safety.
For example – showing and talking about the ten safety essentials you’d want to take with you on a hike.
Volunteers also show and share camping techniques like the proper way to build a fire.
Farron said there’s even a cooking lesson – Dutch oven style: “Everybody loves dutch oven cooking – it’s new to most people and you get a tasty treat at the end so it’s very interactive. Plus, the kids help out.”
Mindy Markman and Whitney Woolf agreed the benefits that the kids experience are huge:
“The guides help the kids,” noted Markman, a returning student in the camping class. “Our first year they taught us how to fish, showed us how to make a fire using just flint stones. They even took us on guided hikes to learn the varied the flora and fauna. All those things are really important to us.”
“We live in a neighborhood which is great,” said Woolf. “But I really want them to have a more wild experience, so that’s what I hope to get out of it – camping in the great outdoors – no fences, just big trees.”
Bryan Jones, one of the “Let’s Go Camping” volunteers, said that as a lifelong Oregon camper, he wouldn’t trade a minute of the experiences he’s had teaching Oregon’s next generation of campers.
“I saw this program online, I clicked on the link and volunteered for a weekend to help out – now, I’m hooked on showing inexperienced families the outdoor pleasures found in Oregon – show them how to set up a tent, how to make a fire, take them on a little nature hike. You can’t believe how happy it makes people feel to discover Oregon this way.”
“I hope to see the families all leave with smiling faces,” added Farron. “I hope they’re enthused and excited and return on their own to an Oregon State Park. Perhaps they’ll discover it’s really worth it; that Oregon’s outdoors is wonderful.”