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GetIN Outdoors: Let’s Camp!

We are proud to present this web series, GetIN Outdoors. It’s a special 6-part series with the 2015 Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience, a 2-day event {Sept 19-20} at Fort Harrison State Park that encourages families to try new outdoor activities together. Read the official announcement here and follow along with our blogger The Momista as her family previews some of the fun. Summer is the time to be GetIN Outdoors!

 

When I was 21, I went on a trip that changed my life. Many of us have had a similar experience – a summer abroad, a coastal crawl with the family, a weekend getaway to a new place. These trips do something to us. They change us, open our eyes to the world outside our safe and comfortable palaces and push us to embrace something completely different. Something we often find we love, without ever having known it. For me, it was a full 9-week immersion into an active outdoor lifestyle in Jackson, Wyoming. Tent and rural cabin camping, rafting, climbing, trail running and a geology course with the University Of Michigan is what drove me West. At first it was the opportunity to knock 8 natural science credits off my undergraduate checklist. But they became the most transformative weeks of my life. The serenity and sheer connection I felt not only with myself but the outdoors was unmatched.
I was getting up early, hiking the hills surrounding our base camp in the mornings, packing tomato hummus sandwiches for lunch and carrying my rock hammer where I went. It was spending days exploring the foothills of the Grand Tetons, getting altitude sickness and spotting bears. Afternoons watching rodeos and forging streams in the name of science. And evenings by the campfire laughing with my coursemates, all ending with the sound of a zippered tent closing for the night. I felt alive.

. . .

I’m a girly girl – a fact you’ll find even more laughable when you discover that for the 2.5 years after we moved to Indiana, I worked for the Indiana Department Of Natural Resources. Admittedly the years after my trip to Wyoming had faded. I took a job in the extremely fast-paced world of advertising. Got married. We settled down. Had two kids. Moved from Detroit to Indianapolis. And after a while the day-to-day became very… metropolitan. Even our mini excursions as a family were urban based: Chicago and Louisville to name a few. We’re city dwellers and I feel passionate about exploring and embracing the city I live in.
But when I closed my eyes at night, my mind wandered to one place: Jackson, Wyoming and the beautiful view of those Grand Tetons. I still haven’t forgotten it.
Perhaps it’s that connectiveness I crave – something so many of us are missing today in the tech era. 1999 was a much different world where our connection didn’t rely on wifi but rather a personal one. We talked, we didn’t text. We smiled, we didn’t emoticon. Ironically we use our devices for just that: Connection. But it has drawn our eyes away from this beautiful and natural world around us – this earth that can make us feel truly alive – and closer to a brightly-shining, handheld screen.
I see you parents: I see you ‘observing’ soccer games from the sidelines absorbed in your inbox. I watch you viewing concerts and recitals through the lens of a camera instead of whole-heartedly through your own corneas. And I get it, I do. Because I do it too.
But that doesn’t eliminate my wanderlust dream for those gorgeous peaks in Grand Teton National Park.
When this new partnership with Indy’s Child and the Indiana Department Of Natural Resources popped up, I knew it was time to get re-engaged. And I want to help your family do it too. Why? Because we NEED it friends. Some serenity in our lives; a way to reconnect to our surroundings, earth and our families. A way to feel alive. So here goes my first proposal for your family. It’s what the Indiana DNR calls ‘GetIN Outdoors’ and it’s a way we can go in search of it together: LET’S CAMP! 

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5 weeks ago, I got the call from Indiana DNR. Or rather from Ginger Murphy, the Deputy Director of Stewardship for the Indiana State Parks. In celebration of June as “Great Outdoors Month,” Indiana had agreed to participate in the Capital Campout program.

{Side note: Capital Campout is a fairly-new program currently hosted in only 13 states. It’s a charge to get youth and/or first-time campers outdoors by offering a rustic overnight stay at a location near the capital city. Hosts – such as the Indiana Department Of Natural Resources – come up with the rest of the itinerary from hiking to fishing and more.}

Would my family and I like to come out and camp? Er, yes, but I shuddered realizing that this budding outdoorswoman had never {gasp} taken her own kids camping. I immediately began digging around in our dusty Rubbermaid bin marked ‘camping gear.’ Sleeping bag – check. Air mattress – check. Camping grill – wait, did I need a grill?
“You don’t need to bring anything,” said Carl Lindell, the Indiana State Parks North Region Manager. The Coleman Company had graciously donated tents, chairs and other equipment for this campout and all we had to do was show up. In the end, we bought a new tent anyway {a Coleman!}. I was determined to make this newfound love of camping stick for my fam.
We arrived at Fort Harrison State Park – the site of the 2015 Capital Campout – with new tent in hand and were greeted by some of the familiar faces I had come to love during my 2.5 years with the Indiana DNR. Immediately Ranger Zach commandeered our new tent and cornered the kids. He overtook their attention for far longer than I’ve ever been able to by giving gentle instruction and putting them in charge of erecting our tent. Success.
GetINOutdoors-LetsCamp2nd“What will we do all day mom?” Hunter – that’s my 7-year-old – asked. It’s something I had to laugh at. We spend our days as parents so enraptured in the details of planning every moment for our kids that sometimes they don’t know how to just be.
But the Capital Campout folks had a full itinerary for us. And while I’d need an entirely other blog post to spill the details of those 2 days together, I think it’s safe to confirm that after the horseback riding, fishing, night hike, lesson on snakes, walk with the Governor and campfire cooking, the kids had a blast. But they liked nothing more than just getting inside the tent and rolling around in their sleeping bags.
“So we’re sleeping on the ground tonight?!” exclaimed Emerson – she’s my dramatic one. They practiced opening and closing the zippered door, and relished the moments of playing frisbee with their new Campout friends. Never once did they ask for a Kindle or to watch TV. And I never wanted to leave.
We were being spoiled with all these fun activities – how could I possibly live up to a camping excursion like this again?
I turned to Don Schafer, Executive Director of Camptown – a local organization dedicated to engaging youth and families with the outdoors through specialized programs like Family Camping 101. We had met at Capital Campout as he and his wife helped me haul not only a sleepy 4-year-old but 3 huge walking sticks back to camp during our night hike.
“What do I tell families who want to get started with camping Don? I’m not an expert.” I told him. Luckily he is.
  • o Start in your own backyard. Don says a backyard campout is the perfect way to enjoy the rustic feel but with all the comforts of home. If little ones need a potty break, they can scoot in to their own. Or if someone forgets a favorite stuffed friend that could help them sleep in their new surroundings, pop in to grab Teddy. Try cooking and sleeping outside to get accustomed to it.
  • o Don’t feel like you have to buy the whole store. Take inventory of what you do have and what you might need. Here’s a great checklist to get started. If you don’t have some items, that’s what friends are for! Ask around to see what you can borrow. Chances are you’ll find your family doesn’t need some of the things a well-meaning store clerk might suggest.
  • o Get familiar with the equipment. Heading out for your first camping adventure AND having to get used to the equipment can be a bit daunting. Instead, practice setting up the tent together at home. Lay in your sleeping bags for fun. Spend the afternoon {or the night – see point above!} in your new surroundings to get used to how they feel.
  • Start simple. Taking a week-long trip to Yellowstone National Park sounds fun but is probably not the right start for rookies. Begin first by planning an overnight trip that’s easy and even close to home. If rustic camping still sounds a bit scary, consider parks that have Inns onsite {like Brown County or Pokagon State Parks} so you can hike, enjoy the amenities, get accustomed to the outdoors with kids, then return to the comforts of a soft bed at the end of the day.
  • o Find a campsite. Organized campsites typically have bathrooms {possibly with showers}, fire rings for cooking and clean water. The Indiana DNR has an abundance of beautiful State Parks where camping is allowed. Start by checking their website here, then consider some of Don’s favorites:
  • o Don’t stress over planning every minute of your trip. So tent setup took 10 minutes and now what? Don says to enjoy some unstructured playtime. Kids so rarely have this in their lives and this setting provides the perfect opportunity to just be. Take bikes, a few favorite games, a football or frisbee and let them create their own play around the campsite.
  • o Do a little extra credit research to feel fully prepared. This bit from Camping For Dummies and this easy WikiHow “How To Start Camping” will give you some extra oomph and assurance.
  • o If you’re nervous to camp for the first time, invite friends. “This is a great way to build a little extra community within your group of friends or neighbors. Plus it gives the kids others to play with. It becomes an enjoyable first experience,” says Don.
  • o Finally, keep at it. One camping trip does not make the sport. Get back out there and enjoy more. Try a new venue. Try a new region. But keep trying. Camptown will offer some special Family Camping 101 sessions through the fall and they are worth a look. Registration is required.

 

That was long-winded yes? I promise that the other pieces in this web series won’t be as lengthy if you promise something to me: That your family will consider getIN outdoors and camping this summer now that you’re armed with a little intel.  I’ll be doing the same – after all, we have a future trip to the Grand Tetons to prep for. Something tells me the kids will love it.

 

MORE INFO: The 2015 Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience runs September 19-20th at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis. If you enjoy camping or want to learn more, this is the perfect event for your family. Camptown will be onsite teaching some basic camping skills and there will be more than 50 other activities to try out. Visit in.gov/dnr/5009.htm for info or follow along on Facebook.

 

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