By David A. Schaller
We don’t often consider that we live in an urban state, but we really do. More Arizonans live in metropolitan areas than anywhere else in the state. We may venture out of our cities and towns from time to time, but we are largely urban or suburban people. Without trying too hard, months or years can go by in our busy lives without us experiencing the wilderness.
The distractions of the modern world can easily disconnect us from developing an awareness of the natural processes that support us. So unless our childhood included opportunities to visit a national park, pitch a tent at a mountain lake, or just drive through a scenic landscape between two cities, we may have grown up without an appreciation for even the idea of wilderness. Waiting until later in life to try on a wilderness experience makes it more difficult to find a permanent place for it in our lives.
Fortunately there is a state-wide program available for young Arizonans and their families not yet comfortable with camping and the outdoor enjoyment it offers. The Arizona State Parks Family Campout Program has become a ticket for families to visit, learn about, and camp at Arizona State Parks while experiencing how to recreate safely on public lands and completing an environmental service project.
The program is built around weekends designed for families that have little or no experience camping. It is supported by AmeriCorps through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service through the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families and the Arizona Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism.
The goal of the program is to introduce young novice campers and their families to a range of outdoor experiences and inspire them to continue to explore the great outdoors. Staff and volunteers show young people how to set up a tent, give them an introduction to outdoor cooking, and provide a variety of activities to enjoy like fishing and archery. Additional activities often include mountain biking, hiking, geocaching, animal demonstrations, campfire stories, birding and more. Families will also get to work on a service project (activities vary by park).
If interested, families should contact azstateparks.com/family to register for a weekend program in a state park near them, being patient on a waiting list if necessary as the program has proven quite popular as the word gets out. Activities are already being scheduled for the spring of 2018 and feature weekends at Patagonia, Roper Lake (Safford), River Island (Parker), and Dead Horse Ranch (Cottonwood) State Parks, plus Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area (Show Low).
At a time when private interests are making a full-scale assault on the national monument and public land treasures of Arizona, additional champions for these lands will be crucial. One certain way to spark youth involvement as public lands guardians for the future is through programs like the Arizona Family Campout Program. 2018 is a great time to start.
For more information, visit azstateparks.com/family.
David Schaller is a retired environmental scientist living in Tucson, where he writes on climate, water and energy security.