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A Site for Sore Eyes

Approaching the end of another Syracuse winter, with snow piled high and freezing temperatures, our minds are drawn to the sunny days and blue skies of summer. As cold and white as winters are in Central New York, the springs, summers and autumns are glorious.

One activity our family enjoys doing each summer is camping. There are many beautiful locations in New York, and our annual camping trip has become an opportunity for us to become better acquainted with different sights around our state.

While some people may cringe at the thought of taking their children into the great outdoors where there is no Disney Channel, no electrical outlets and no indoor plumbing, we look forward to the adventure. Before ruling it out, consider spending time with your children fishing, swimming next to a waterfall, or singing around the campfire—all experiences our family has had while camping.

One key to a successful camping trip is planning. New York is home to wonderful campgrounds, many of which book up quickly. Call and reserve a site as far in advance as possible. Phoning ahead may also enable you to select the camp site of your choice. Many campgrounds have online maps or representatives who will explain the lay of the land over the phone so you can decide on your choice of sites. For example, we always request a site reasonably close to a restroom as we have small children who have trouble holding their water through the night.

Another way we plan is by picking a campground close to some activities of interest. We have found that our children look forward to prearranged activities to break up the day. For example, last year we camped at Buttermilk Falls, near Ithaca. We hiked one afternoon, we swam under the falls another, and the campground was close enough to Ithaca that we could shop or steal away for dinner if hot dogs cooked over the campfire grew too monotonous.

We have also learned to be ready for the unexpected. One year we camped in the Adirondacks and it rained for the first 24 hours we were there. Luckily, we had prepared for such a possibility, tucking away packs of cards, board games and simple crafts that could be created in tents. The children still had fun as we waited out the bad weather.

Margaret Monteran, author of Family Camping 101: Tips, Hints and Resources (www.monteran.com), suggests packing a small tackle box with drawers full of art supplies such as crayons, markers, pencils and other items for quiet moments or inclement weather. Monteran also proposes decorating small notebooks ahead of time that can act as camp journals. Don’t forget glue, which can be used to add leaves, small stones or other treasures.

Another plus to planning ahead is inviting other families. We have gone camping with the same family friends for the past three summers, and it has become an important tradition for all of us. We have since invited other families to join us, which results in massive kickball games, sing-alongs and exploring expeditions. If you choose to invite friends with similar age children, camping can become a super slumber party/play date of the very best kind. We begin discussing which week will work for the annual camping trip as early as January or February.

Being away from civilization to one degree or another means making an extensive list of things to pack. There are several books on the market that may assist in preparing for a family camping trip. In addition to Margaret Monteran’s book, try Tammerie Spires’ A Guide to Happy Family Camping (Good Books; $8.95) and The Essential Family Camper (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press; $14.95) by David and Zora Aiken.

We also recommend visiting the Web site www.lovethe outdoors.com, which has many practical tips and lists so families can have a successful camping experience.

Family camping has become an important stone in our family mosaic. Our children look forward each summer to family time, unplugged. It is a time to enjoy nature, strengthen family ties and leave behind the trappings of technology. May you have just such an experience with your family this summer in the great outdoors!     

Alan and Kelly Taylor live in Liverpool with their five children. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies; Alan is an assistant professor in Syracuse University’s department of child and family studies.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York