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Program helps teach families how to camp

Cyclists pedal across state to raise money for Rise School of Austin

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com

I grew up camping. My family spent many a blissful weekend toasting marshmallows over a campfire and sleeping on bunk-bed cots (really!) inside a huge blue canvas tent.

Our favorite destinations? Bastrop and Inks Lake state parks.

Camping — mosquitoes, dirt and all — created such happy memories for me that it makes me a little sad that so many families today prefer fancy hotel rooms and restaurant meals to a couple of days in the woods with the fireflies and camp stove.

According to a statewide visitor survey, recently compiled and analyzed by Sam Houston State University, the typical visitor to a Texas state park is a middle-age, white, non-Hispanic person traveling with a spouse or other family member.

Did you notice? Children aren't mentioned in that group.

If parents don't instill a love of the outdoors in their kids, they will be less likely to appreciate parks, campgrounds and hiking trails when they get older.

Part of the problem is that some parents are intimidated by the idea of camping. They didn't do it as kids and aren't sure how to do it now with their own families.

Through the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's Texas Outdoor Family program, families can learn the basics of camping, from setting up and breaking down camp to starting a fire and cooking outdoors.

Participants don't even need a tent to sign up. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provides all the gear, plus instructors to guide you through a weekend full of kayaking, fishing and geocaching, a sort of high-tech scavenger hunt using Global Positioning System units to find hidden treasures.

I attended one of the sessions two years ago and loved watching camping rookies learn how to light a lantern and put up a tent.

Workshops are planned for April 10-11 at Lake Somerville State Park; April 17-18 at Inks Lake State Park; May 8-9 at Enchanted Rock; May 15-16 at Colorado Bend State Park; May 22-23 at McKinney Falls State Park; and May 29-30 at Palmetto State Park.

Each workshop costs $55 for up to six people and includes park entry, campsite rental, equipment, park ranger-led instruction, park-specific activities and a state park Junior Ranger certification program. Campers must bring a sleeping bag or bedding and food and drink.

To register, call 512-389-8903. For more information about the program e-mail tofsp@tpwd.state.tx.us.

Looking for more information about area parks? A new Web site, www.texasstateparks.org, will soon include videos of parks and virtual tours of their facilities.

Ride for Rise School

Steve Hicks is pedaling across Texas, tackling 850 miles between Orange and Presidio as part of a fund-raiser for the Rise School of Austin, which provides early childhood education services to children with and without developmental disabilities.

Hicks, a member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents and executive chairman of Capstar Partners, a private investment firm, organized the ride after visiting the Rise School of Austin with Gov. Rick Perry last spring. There, he met a little girl with Down syndrome who told him he was her new best friend.

"It touched my heart," Hicks says.

He learned then that the school had to pack up the room it uses at the First Evangelical Free Church each Friday and unpack again the following Monday. It needs a permanent home.

With his 60th birthday approaching, Hicks decided to organize the Rise Across Texas Challenge to pay for a permanent facility for the nonprofit school, which is affiliated with the University of Texas. The goal is to raise $5 million.

In all, about 20 cyclists are joining Hicks for the 14-day ride which began Saturday at the Louisiana border, makes its way through the Hill Country and finishes in West Texas. Perry is expected to ride one day.

Hicks has been training with former Tour de France cyclist Kevin Livingston at Pedal Hard, a training facility in the basement of Mellow Johnny's bike shop in Austin. The first few days will be relatively flat, but a mountain near Leakey might as well be Mount Everest, Hicks says.

"I kind of wish we lived in a smaller state, like Rhode Island," he says.

Wednesday, the ride will roll through Austin, where local cyclists can join the group for a 16-mile fun ride from the Rise School in southwest Austin to the Salt Lick restaurant in Driftwood. Cost is $100 to participate; proceeds benefit Rise Schools of Texas.

To make a donation or register for the Wednesday ride, go to www.riseacrosstexas.org. For more information about Rise School of Austin, go to www.riseschool.org.

Be seen in magazine

The publishers of Austin Fit Magazine are starting a new, user-generated magazine and Website called Seen.

Readers who want to see their photos or stories in print can submit them at www.beinseen.com. Some of the submitted content will then be published in the magazine, which will be distributed free each month at local restaurants and shops.

"It's designed to be more of a reflection of Austin, the first and as far as I know only magazine that's basically built by the public," says Austin Fit Magazine editor-in-chief Drex Earle. "There are a lot of creative people in Austin — bloggers, photographers and people with stories to tell. We want to create forum for them."

The Website will provide different editorial themes each month. Content will include recaps of local events, reviews of restaurants, shops and vacations, and stories about families and friends. It's free to register and submit.

Those who send in content will earn points that can be used to make purchases from the magazine's advertisers.

The first issue is planned for midyear. Submissions are now being accepted.

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994