The Great Family Campout

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.04.22 PMQuestion: What do jumbo marshmallows, Nick Offerman, and a pond full of tadpoles all have in common?
Answer: They perfectly describe last weekend.

Offerman (Ron from “Parks & Rec”) is the National Wildlife Federation’s new spokesperson. He’s featured in their 2015 Great American Campout campaign, an effort to get 100,000 people pledged to camp this summer. For every pledgee, top NWF supporters will donate $1 to its cause, which is to protect wildlife and connect people with nature.

Saturday, June 27, was the official Great American Campout kickoff. But June being Great Outdoors Month, and in conjunction with Father’s Day, our family went camping. With only about 24 hours for the trip, we and another family caravanned to Lake Anna State Park, about 2 hours away. We chose Lake Anna for its proximity, well-reputed campground, and public beach at which to frolic on Saturday.

IMG_3107Unfortunately, camping prep takes almost as much effort for one night as for ten. We worked hard all Friday morning to get packed and organized, and we still left an hour later than expected. Fortunately, I’d made reservations online. Unfortunately, the site assignments are first come, first served, and most were full by the time we rolled in at 6pm. Fortunately, we did find two spots next to each other, and fortunately, they were right next to the trail that led to the lake, and even more fortunately, one of them had a little pond to the side, fed by a culvert, that was home to lots and lots and lots of frogs.

Wow. Did our kids have a heyday with those frogs. While Moms and Dads unloaded and sweated and started dinner and set up tents, the kids took to watching, and catching, frogs in earnest. One was discovered, then another, and a third. Then tadpoles, loads of them, in various stages of gestation. The pond held the younger children’s interest longer than the older ones; these, unbeknownst to me, had camping pranks on the brain, and furtively paired off for planning purposes.

We’d planned a Dutch oven dinner that night; unfortunately, just as it was ready, a typical Virginia thunderstorm rolled through. Fortunately, one of our tents was big enough for all to sit in, so we watched the rainstorm through tent screen windows while we ate deliciously messy pulled chicken sandwiches, and chips and watermelon wedges from Ziploc bags. Fortunately, there was a break in the weather just long enough to start a small fire and make s’mores with three kinds of chocolate (hello, barkTHINS.) Unfortunately, the bath house, which we found clean and functional earlier in the evening, had water issues starting around 10pm, so we brushed our teeth with bottled water, and fell asleep to the patter of heavy rain on storm fly.

My husband was awakened early to the unmistakable sound of duct tape ripping – our oldest daughter was trying to tape her sister into her sleeping bag. This was apparently the big “prank”, which got shut down forthwith. Unfortunately, my air mattress had deflated overnight, and a little rain had gotten in, but fortunately it had been a coolish night (for Virginia in June), and for the most part, we’d slept well. Unfortunately, the bath house was still out of order, so to use the facilities, we had to walk the path to the lake and use the rest rooms there.

IMG_3105Fortunately, this was what camping is all about. Dealing with the unexpected, yes. But more, a 20 minute nature walk (10 minutes each way) first thing in the morning, where you step out your front door and enter a canopy of trees that opens to a freshwater lake with morning mist rising from the surface, THAT is what all these campaigns are about. Then Dutch oven peach crisp, bacon, and eggs cooked over the fire for breakfast, while we brushed our teeth again with bottled water and the kids continued their science studies (a.k.a. frog terrorism) at the pond (dubbed “Hickorton Pond” for our two families). And a morning spent swimming in the lake and playing on the beach.

THAT is what these campaigns are about. Pack some stuff. Get outdoors. Deal with what happens. Get dirty. Breathe fresh air. Sweat. Watch the rain. Look up at the trees, and down at the bugs. It’s good for your body. It’s good for your spirit. It’s good for your family. And if you take the pledge, it’s good for America’s wildlife.

Family Camping for Beginners – Nervous about being a camping novice? Get a few tips and you’re on your way.

Camping Activities – Not sure what to do once you’re there? Make a scavenger hunt, do some cloud inspecting, make marshmallow constellations, play games, build fairy houses, have a campfire story contest, or bring watercolors/pencils/notebooks and record your observations in nature.

25 Camping Recipes (SixSistersStuff) – Not sure what, or how, to cook on a camping trip? You could do a lot worse than these 25 mouthwatering, family friendly dishes. I’m about to short out my keyboard with drool over the Summer Sausage Hobo Packets and Campfire Cones.

Don’t have time to camp this summer? My favorite non-camping camping book – Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes.