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Happy Campers


Imagine you’re out under the stars, crickets chirping softly while you roast hot dogs over an open fire. A cozy tent is already made up with warm sleeping bags, and your gear is stowed away from the dewy night air. After dinner, the kids gather ’round to toast marshmallows and enjoy a cup of cocoa. Suddenly, you hear a noise and point your flashlight in that direction.

What’s that? It’s your spouse standing at the back door with kitchen phone in hand. “Honey, there’s a phone call for you!” Luckily, you’re just out in the back yard.

Camping is the kind of adventure that doesn’t require going very far to commune with nature. In fact, kids who start out camping in their own back yards learn outdoor skills that transfer well to the wilderness beyond your fence.

Basic camping equipment is not terribly expensive and can be acquired at yard sales and discount stores, or rent quality equipment from local outfitters like Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS). Justin Ray guide/outfitter at EMS in Fayetteville says, “Based on personal experience, I recommend one two-person tent for the adults and one for the kids.” EMS rents two-person tents at $20 for a three-day period.

“Screened dining canopies and sun shelters are great for keeping the bugs away and helping stay out of direct sunlight,” Ray adds. He also recommends a Kelty kid carrier for taking the toddlers out on hikes.

Here are some other camping essentials:
Sleeping: A good tent will make or break your outdoor experience. Make sure all zipper closures are in working order and check the nylon material for rips and tears. Holes can be repaired with tent repair kits or duct tape. Keeping the “outside” things out and the “inside” things in is important for safety and comfort.

Tents do not have to be expensive to be reliable and provide protection from the elements. Today’s dome tents are the easiest to set up. If using a tent for the first time, set it up in a familiar setting for practice and to make sure all the parts are there. Laying down a waterproof tarp or tent liner is essential to keep moisture out of your tent.

Inside your tent, each camper should be outfitted with a good sleeping bag (match the temperature rating to the weather). The bag will function as bed, sheets and blankets, but bring a small pillow if you wish. Campers with an aversion to sleeping on rough terrain may want to invest in a sleeping pad to take the edge off the hard ground.

Every camper should also have a flashlight, to relieve fears and help light the way to the bathroom in the dark, with fresh batteries. Never use open flames, candles or propane lanterns inside a tent.

Eating: Even ordinary food is tastier when cooked and consumed outdoors. Adult supervision is required with every meal since you will be working with the most primitive (translation: dangerous) cooking methods. Most public camping areas will have a fire ring or grill, but if you plan to cook in the back yard, decide whether you’ll cook over hot coals in a grill or use a propane camp stove. Your young ones will gravitate to flames like happy little moths so exercise extreme caution when they are near the cooking area.

Foods like trail mix and s’mores are part of the camp territory but making meals creative and varied will keep your campers happy. Plan your menu in advance so you have time to shop and prepare the ingredients for easy cooking in the wild. (See the recipes on page 12 for ideas.)
The day before the campout, wash and cut fruits and vegetables and put into Ziplock bags that are easy to stow in a cooler. Freezing meats will help keep them fresh longer.

An outdoor kitchen may require some organization depending on the menu. Keep meals simple, serve a variety of foods and assign every camper a job to make meal preparation go smoothly. It is helpful to stow all kitchen items in one sturdy cardboard or plastic box with a lid.

Decide whether to use disposable plates and utensils or wash and reuse durable plastic ware.

To wash dishes, pack a dishpan or bucket, soap and a sponge. You will also need warm water for washing and rinsing. This is a delightful task for school-age kids who love playing with water. Critters may visit your camp at night so put away all food in a sturdy cooler or in your car.

Comfort: Campers should each have their own toiletries kit with essentials like toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner and towel. Even if you’ll be coming inside to use the facilities, it is important that campers learn how to pack and use their kit. If you’re camping in the wild, most public campsites have toilets and many have hot showers.

Be sure the young ones pack clothing and accessories appropriate for the weather. Cool weather requires layering to retain body heat and wick moisture away from the body. If you’re expecting warm weather, be sure to take sunscreen and a hat.

Just for fun: If the going gets dull, try some activities such as a nature hike. Ask everyone to notice unusual things and describe them. For instance, take a closer look at the ground and trees, searching for tiny signs of life. Try an evening hike with flashlights and explain the importance of staying together on the trail.

Gather around the campfire for jokes and storytelling. Avoid stories that will scare the youngest ones. Listen for the sounds of the outdoors and try to identify noises and which creatures make them. Play “eye-spy” where someone spots an object and gives clues for others to guess what it is.

Encourage youngsters to bring a small backpack with books, magazines, travel-size board games, or playing cards. Have each child make notes and drawings in a field notebook of things they’ve seen that day. Try to leave all electronic devices and toys at home.

Children who grow up camping learn to be resourceful, appreciate nature, and work together. Camping is a great way to de-stress in a natural surrounding, and get away from it all, even if you’re just a few steps away from home.

Camp Menu
Kitchen gear should include a cooler with ice, kettle or pan for heating water, a medium saucepan for warming canned items, a metal serving spoon, tongs, knife, cutting board, can opener, foil, garlic powder, salt, pepper and other spices, Ziplock bags for storage, a griddle or large frying pan and a spatula.
Easy breakfast items include instant oatmeal, pancakes made from mix, sausage links, fresh fruit and cold cereal. Try this recipe for Daybreak Tacos, consisting of tortillas, eggs, bacon, cheese and potatoes.
For lunch, try instant soup, submarine sandwiches with lunch meat, crackers, vegetables and fruit such as baby carrots, grapes or cherry tomatoes, peanut butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches.
At dinner, plan chili hot dogs or hamburgers, canned baked beans or corn, or those fire-roasted potatoes leftover from breakfast tacos. Or try a Perfect Packet Meal of chicken, carrots and potatoes.

Perfect Packet Meal
• 1 serving, multiply as needed
• Chicken breast or drumstick
• 1 medium potato, scrubbed and cubed
• 1 carrot, scrubbed and cut into chunks
• ¼ onion, optional
• ¼ teaspoon fresh or dried basil, optional
• Sprinkle of garlic powder or ¼ teaspoon minced fresh garlic
• Salt and black pepper
• One pat of margarine or butter (about ½ teaspoon)
• 12-inch square of heavy-duty or two sheets regular foil

Place chicken in center of foil sheet(s) and sprinkle with black pepper and garlic. Top with chunks of potato and carrot, sprinkle with salt. Add onion, margarine and herbs. Fold foil over ingredients and seal edges, making a double fold. Packet should be folded tightly to cook properly.
Carefully place foil packet on grill 4 to 5 inches above hot coals (after flames have died down) and cook until packet puffs slightly (about 20 minutes). To test for doneness, remove one packet, open carefully and insert a fork into the chicken. Juices should run clear, not pink, and vegetables should be tender. Remove chicken and vegetables from foil and serve on individual plates.

Fire-Roasted Potatoes
• 1 serving, multiply as needed
• 1 large baking potato, scrubbed
• Salt and black pepper
• Garlic powder or ¼ teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
• One pat of margarine or butter (about ½ teaspoon)
• 12-inch square of heavy-duty or two sheets regular foil
• Handful of shredded cheese

Pierce potato with fork in several places and place in center of foil sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and top with garlic and margarine. Wrap foil tightly around potato and carefully place among hot coals and roast for about 60 minutes, turning with tongs every 15 minutes. Roast until tip of knife slides into potato easily. Cut unwrapped potato lengthwise and top with cheese.

Daybreak Tacos
• 1 serving, multiply as needed
• 2 flour tortillas
• 1 egg, beaten
• 2 slices bacon
• One leftover roasted potato from dinner (or one raw potato, scrubbed and diced)
• Small handful of shredded jack or cheddar cheese
• Salsa or hot sauce, optional

Cut each bacon strip into 1-inch pieces and cook in frying pan on camp stove or over coals until almost crisp. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of grease and add potato. If using raw potato, stir often and cook until tender. When potato is cooked, add egg, scrambling with spatula. Spoon onto warmed tortilla (warm by wrapping a few in foil and tossing on grill above coals) and serve with cheese and salsa.


Central New York Campsites
Bowman Lake State Park. 745 Bliven Sherman Road, Oxford. (607) 334-2718. Trees shade campsites; sandy lakefront for swimming; picnic areas; playground; nature trail; hiking; fishing.

Chenango Valley State Park. 153 State Park Road, Chenango Forks. (607) 648-5251. Swimming and fishing in two lakes; playground; nature trail; hiking; golf; boat rentals.

Chittenango Falls State Park. 2300 Rathbun Road, Cazenovia. 655-9620. Picturesque 167-foot waterfall is the main attraction at this park. Also fishing, hiking and picnicking.

Delta Lake State Park. 8797 State Route 46, Rome. 337-4670. Flat wooded terrain; playground; hiking trails; fishing; boat launch.

Gilbert Lake State Park. 18 CCC Road, Laurens. (607) 432-2114. Central lake and three ponds lie in wooded, hilly terrain. Hiking trails; playgrounds; disc-golf course; visitors’ center.

Glimmerglass State Park. 1527 County Highway 31, Cooperstown. (607) 547-8662. Wide variety of wildlife; Beaver Pond nature trail; fishing; playgrounds.

Green Lakes State Park. 7900 Green Lakes Road, Fayetteville. 637-6111. Two glacial lakes surrounded by upland forest; fishing; boat rentals; an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones.

Oquaga Creek State Park. 5995 County Route 20, Bainbridge. (607) 467-4160. A 55-acre Arctic Lake with swimming and fishing; forested campsites; playground; nature trail; one two-bedroom cottage available for rent.

Verona Beach State Park. Eastern shore of Oneida Lake, Verona Beach. 762-4463. Shaded picnic areas and campground adjacent to beach provide excellent view of the water. Hiking trail; fishing area; playground.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York