Long-time campers know the gooey fun of making s’mores over the fire, but for those who have never slept in a tent before, spending the night outdoors can be an unfamiliar adventure. Through Georgia State Parks’ First-Time Camper Program, curious guests can see if they enjoy sleeping under the stars before investing in their own gear. More than 300 families have participated in the three-year-old program, which expands this March to include 13 state parks.
For just $50, guests spend two nights in a modern campground, trying out all the necessary gear. Park staff or volunteers will greet campers upon arrival, give tips on setting up the tent, and offer a Camping 101 lesson. Equipment donated by REI and Coleman includes a family tent, sleeping pads, chairs, camp stove, fuel and lantern. Bathrooms and hot showers are a short walk from the campsite. At the end of their getaway, campers return the gear and go home with memories to last forever.
“We often hear visitors say they like the idea of camping, but they don’t have the equipment and aren’t sure they’ll enjoy it,” said the program’s coordinator Ellen Graham. “Once they see how easy it is to pitch a tent and maybe even experience the thrill of hearing an owl, they’ll realize how much fun camping can be.”
Georgia’s State Parks currently in the program include A.H. Stephens in Crawfordville, F.D. Roosevelt in Pine Mountain, Fort Mountain near Chatsworth, Fort Yargo in Winder, General Coffee near Douglas, Gordonia-Alatamaha in Reidsville, James H. Floyd near Summerville, Magnolia Springs in Millen, Reed Bingham in Adel, Red Top Mountain on Lake Allatoona, Richard B. Russell on Lake Russell, Skidaway Island in Savannah and Stephen C. Foster in the Okefenokee Swamp. Both Fort Mountain and Red Top Mountain have enough equipment for larger families or groups up to 20 people.
Author Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods shined a light on America’s growing disconnect with nature – coining it “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Park officials hope that projects such as First-Time Camper will give families an incentive to explore and appreciate the natural world around them.
Anyone who has never camped in a Georgia State Park may participate. While leashed dogs are normally welcome in campgrounds, they are not allowed in the First-Time Camper program since gear is shared among participants. Once settled in, guests can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, boating, geocaching, mini-golf, wildlife programs and many other activities. Reservations are required and must be made by calling the individual parks.
To learn more, visit GeorgiaStateParks.org/FirstTimeCamper.