Camping 101 for families
Checking out an alligator up close or catching your first fish can create memories that stay with you, says park ranger Robert Owen of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. And with a little help from outdoor experts, nature doesn't have to be intimidating.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife's Texas Outdoor Family program has taught nearly 2,000 families how to safely enjoy the outdoors by guiding them through basic outdoor skills needed for an overnight camping trip. Since its launch in 2008, the program has grown to include state parks across Texas and its workshops have expanded to meet the interests of curious campers.
Specially themed camping workshops such as Dutch oven cooking and historical site exploring have been added. And by popular demand, the program has included more two-night camping options.
Most participants have little to no camping experience, but at least 65 percent of them have visited a state park again after attending the camping workshops, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
This upcoming season, the Texas Outdoor Family program plans to debut a new camping workshop that provides a screened shelter. "This gives families who may not be ready to sleep in a tent yet an opportunity to get outdoors anyway," said Owen, outdoor education specialist with Texas Outdoor Family. The screened shelters have a roof, concrete floor and ceiling fans.
"Many families have 'nature deficit disorder,' and we're trying to fight that," Owen said. "We're trying to provide a fun and enjoyable experience for people who think camping might seem hard or uncomfortable."
Families learn, among other things, how to set up and break down a campsite, start a camp fire and cook outdoors. They also get introductions to kayaking, fishing and wildlife watching.
At McKinney Falls State Park this spring, a special Buffalo Soldiers-themed camping workshop will feature Civil War-era character interpreters. Participants also will get to spend the night on Battleship Texas near Houston and explore the historic San Jacinto battleground.
Family time is encouraged, says Lindsey Davis, program coordinator. "These workshops give families a chance to put all sorts of distractions away — work, school, electronic media," she said. "It's a chance to reconnect as a family."
Texas Outdoor Family sessions
For more information on the Texas Outdoor Family program, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/outdoorfamily. Families are provided with all camping gear. One-night stay workshops cost $65 per family (up to six people). Families can register by calling 389-8903 or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Texas Outdoor Family learn-to-camp sessions
Feb. 11 — Estero Llano Grande State Park
Feb. 18 — Goose Island State Park
Feb. 24 — Lake Corpus Christi State Park
March 3 — Dinosaur Valley State Park and Brazos Bend State Park
March 23 — Lake Mineral Wells State Park
March 24 — Pedernales Falls State Park
March 31 — Cedar Hill State Park and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site
April 14 — Government Canyon State Park, McKinney Falls State Park, Brazos Bend State Park
April 20 — Huntsville State Park
April 21 — Inks Lake State Park
April 28 — Blanco State Park
May 5 — Lake Livingston State Park and Battleship Texas
May 11— Garner State Park
May 12 — Cooper Lake State Park- South Sulphur Unit
May 18 — Garner State Park
May 19 —Palo Duro Canyon State Park
June 2 — Galveston Island State Park and Daingerfield State Park
June 8 — Caprock Canyons State Park
June 9 — Guadalupe River State Park
June 15 — South Llano River State Park
June 16 — Buescher State Park
June 23 — Ray Roberts Lake State Park — Isle Du Bois Unit and Lake Somerville State Park — Birch Unit
June 30 — Inks Lake State Park and Eisenhower State Park