Campgrounds Getting ‘Wired’ Kids Outdoors
Richard Louv made national headlines a few years ago when he published Last Child in the Woods, an award winning book that documented an alarming disconnect between today’s wired generation and nature.
But if you feel it’s a challenge to separate your children from their cellphones, iPods, and computer or video games, take heart.
“Many of America’s privately owned and operated campgrounds are developing new activities for children of all ages to help them reconnect with nature,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
The Larkspur, Colo.-based trade association, in fact, is encouraging its 3,500-plus affiliated campgrounds and RV parks and resorts to increase their offerings of nature-oriented programs for children and families.
Here is sampling of privately owned parks across the country that are offering interesting and unique activities, both on their own initiative and with encouragement of the national association, to help their guests reconnect with nature:
— Artic RV Park in Cosmopolis, Wash.: This park, located near Olympic National Park, offers crawdad fishing in a river that flows next to the park. “I keep spare bait for crawdads, string and weights for children to use for ‘long lining’ in the river,” said park owner Roy Pearmain. “I also teach children how to pick up the crawdads and how to sex the crawdads so they can throw back the girls.” Pearmain, who has a degree in biology, also takes his park guests on nature walks and talks about the medicinal uses of plants and trees that are native to the area.
— Camp Taylor Campground in Columbia, N.J.: This campground is the home of the Lakota Wolf Preserve, which provides educational talks on wolves, bobcats and foxes twice daily. “We also provide lake swimming, rather than a pool maintained with chemicals. Our lake was built so that we have the ability to control the flow of water into it, thereby maintaining a continuous flow of fresh water,” said park owner Jean Taylor, adding, “Most of our weekend activities are designed to promote environmental awareness and preservation. Our newest activity this year is a ‘lett-us-be-green’ weekend, in which we will be introducing green smoothies made with various green vegetables and healthy fruits. We try to incorporate the need to eating healthy with the need for a healthy environment using informative, nature-based activities centering around simple ways people can ‘go green’ at home and the effect it can have in preserving the planet. Children will go home with a green plant to care for at home.”
— Castaways RV Resort and Campground in Berlin, Md.: This park is the closest to Ocean City, Md.'s most popular beach resort. “We are situated overlooking Assateague Island, where the wild ponies run. You can see them feeding daily from across the bay,” said Kathleen Morris, the park’s general manager. “We have kayak and jet ski rentals on the site as well as fishing skiffs. We also have numerous fishing and crabbing piers as well as clamming sandbars within wading distance.” Morris added, “We encourage the kids in the park to participate in our recreation activities as opposed to being couch potatoes.”
— Findlay/Van Buren KOA in Van Buren, Ohio: Park operator Randy Perry says his park will increase the number of nature-oriented activities it offers this year. “We plan to build bat houses as an activity this year and have more nature scavenger hunts,” he said, adding that the campground is also next to Van Buren State Park, which has Saturday programs that revolve around nature.
— Herkimer KOA in Herkimer, N.Y.: This park is doing several things to try to encourage its guests to develop a closer connection to our natural environment, while also taking better care of themselves. The park recently installed the nation’s first “off grid” solar powered park model rental cabin, which includes bamboo flooring, LED lighting, recycled axels and tires, recycled lumber composite decking, on-demand water heating, energy efficient heating and air-conditioning.
“Our guests will not only have an opportunity for a great camping experience, but the dwelling itself becomes an educational tool,” said Renee Scialdo Shevat, the park’s owner, adding, “It’s going to increase awareness of environmental issues not only in New York state, but across the country. My hope is that our guests not only come to enjoy the weekend, but come away inspired to live a greener lifestyle.” Toward that end, a rainwater collection system is also being set up to capture rainwater that falls on the solar-power park model so that it can be used to irrigate an organic vegetable and herb garden. Shevat plans to encourage her guests to pick vegetables and herbs from the garden and use them in their cooking while they stay at the park.
— Lake George RV Park in Lake George, N.Y.: This park has a nature awareness program that includes educational materials and designated nature areas where campers can learn about the wildlife that inhabits the park. The park also has live animal shows with wildlife experts.
— Lazy River at Granville in Granville, Ohio: This park has many outdoor activities, including a 300-foot-long zipline, which is popular with people of all ages. But one of the park’s newest nature-oriented attractions is a teacher they affectionately call “The Bug Lady.” “She’s like a pied piper,” said park owner Mark Kasper. She comes to the park several times during the summer, equipped with a suitcase full of insects. Kasper remembers one day when a group of teenagers arrived at his park and scattered shortly after checking in. He worried that they were going to get into mischief. “I later found them sitting in rapture,” he said, “just listening to what this lady had to say.” In addition to talking about the insects she carries in her case, “The Bug Lady” also takes children on tours through the campground looking for bugs. The park also recently opened a mile-long walking path to encourage its guests to get out of their RVs and enjoy a walk in the woods.
— Lock 30 Woodlands RV Resort in Lisbon, Ohio: This park, which has launched numerous green initiatives in recent years, plans to offer a crafts class this year on making fragrant room deodorizers from pine cones, lavender, and flower petals. “We’ll ask for a speaker from a local herb guild or a horticulturalist to do a ‘walking’ class on using what’s plentiful along our riverfront,” said Karen Anesi, a park spokeswoman. The park has also purchased “pedal cars” in an effort to encourage its guests to burn calories instead of fuel or electricity. And instead of holding a chili cookoff, as many campgrounds do during the summertime, Lock 30 Woodlands RV Resort plans to hold a “Locavore Weekend Corn and Tomato Cook Off,” in which the park will challenge its campers to create a potluck featuring the bounty of Ohio’s gardens. “We’ll invite local farmers – at no charge to them – to set up a produce farmer’s market at the campground where they can sell locally grown produce. We’ll also use our website to publicize winning recipes and we’ll award prizes for categories that salute the ‘slow food’ movement,” Anesi said.
— Normandy Farms Campground in Foxboro, Mass.: This park has a two-mile nature trail, complete with interpretive nature signs that the park incorporates into its regular activity schedule. The park also offers geocaching to encourage kids to get outside and search for caches. “We also have fishing derbies to entice kids to enjoy simple activities, such as fishing in our pond,” said park spokeswoman Kristine Daniels.
— Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley, Calif.: This High Sierra offers nature oriented events throughout spring, summer and fall, including a medicinal plants hike on July 4th, a photography workshop on July 25th, a fly-fishing workshop Aug. 7th and 8th, a watercolor retreat Sept. 20-24 and a fall colors hike on Oct. 8.
— The Great Outdoors RV Nature and Golf Resort in Titusville, Fla.: This RV resort is one of the largest in the country, with 1,534 sites for towable and motorized RVs as well as park models and custom-built resort homes. But the park also has 3,000 acres of land that are home to native egrets, deer and quail. The Great Outdoors puts a heavy focus on nature, providing habitat areas for numerous land animals and birds, including the colorful “painted bunting,” a rare and stunningly beautiful red, blue and green bird whose habitat has been destroyed in many areas of Florida. The Great Outdoors not only preserves habitat for the painted bunting and other species, but recently opened a 2,795 square foot nature center, which provides a wildlife museum, nature programs and hikes.
Other park operators offer much more traditional but very satisfying nature-based activities. Consider Riley and Vicky Turner, who own a small campground in the Manistee National Forest in central Michigan.
Their park, R & J Resort Campground, has 25 campsites, six cabins and three cottages, and is surrounded by pines, poplars, maples and oaks. It’s also close to the Manistee River, a prime spot for fishing and kayaking or canoeing.
“My favorite kayak or canoe trip is to go from Hodenpyl Dam to Red Bridge,” Vicky Turner explains. “You’ll see eagles in flight, albino deer, turkeys and other different animals coming to the river to get a drink.”
The trip takes about three to four hours by canoe.
“When the kids come,” Turner said, “I take them to see some of our sassafras trees. It’s my favorite tree because you can chew on the leaf and it tastes like rootbeer.”