A natural connection: National, statewide initiatives encourage outdoor activity

Grab your tent and your sleeping bag or your hiking shoes and water bottle because whether you’re staying up all night telling ghost stories beside the campfire or taking a day trip to join a group for an activity, it’s time to get outside.

The National Wildlife Federation is marking 10 years of heading outdoors with its annual event the Great American Backyard Campout scheduled for Saturday, June 28.

The Great American Backyard Campout is part of the federation’s 10 Million Kids Outdoors Campaign, a three-year initiative seeking “a future in which all children spend time outside each day, creating a generation of happier and healthier children with more awareness and connection to the natural world,” the federation said.

About 200,000 campers participated last year, and those pledging “to camp in their backyards, neighborhoods, parks and campgrounds, as a simple way to reconnect with nature” this year can do so through the federation’s website,” it said.

Campers are not obligated to camp out on June 28, but are asked to make the pledge before that deadline.

For every person who pledges, a $2 donation, of up to $400,000, will be made to support the federation’s wildlife conservation work, it said.

Tenley Park, Old Sandbank Road, Everett, is holding a Great American Backyard Campout event for a sixth time this year, Everett Recreation Board president Michael Teeter said.

Teeter works for Recreational Equipment Incorporated, which has a distribution center in Bedford and is involved in the joint effort to open the park to campers yearly.

Details for this year’s campout are still being finalized, but a glow-stick hike is under consideration, he said. In years past, the event has welcomed different organizations such as the Civil Air Patrol and live musical entertainment.

Someone usually brings a guitar and a campfire is always on the agenda, Teeter said.

Campers should bring their own camping equipment, food and beverages. Restrooms, parking and 100 campsites are available at the free event.

“For us as the rec board, we really want to try to promote our park and have people come and enjoy the outdoors,” Teeter said of why it’s important for people to unplug and get outdoors as the Great American Backyard Campout suggests.

Also, Teeter and REI are “very strong on stewardship and getting people back outside,” he said. “I think that kids and families these days spend most of their time inside in front of TVs, and they’re watching camping shows on TV or watching survival shows on TV when really everything is right outside, and they could experience it for themselves. So we feel that it’s our part to try to get people connected with nature again and get them back outside.”

And there’s plenty to do in the area, including at Prince Gallitzin State Park, Patton.

Assistant park manager Tim Yeager said the park’s Crooked Run Campground offers a variety of camping options, including areas for tent camping and cottages.

Programs offered at the park include those from environmental education specialist Beth Garner.

The park participates in programs under the Go Get Outdoors PA initiative, aimed at getting people outside. The initiative is provided through partnerships between multiple agencies including the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Pre-registration is required from some programming, but all programs are free and open to the public, Yeager said, “and it’s a really good opportunity for people to come out and learn about nature in a really nice setting.”

Today’s programs consist of a nature photography scavenger hunt from 10:30 a.m. to noon, The Ranger Rick Geocache Challenge from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and a Murder Mystery program from 7 to 8 p.m. All events meet at the amphitheater.

Sunday, Library at the Lake takes place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the small pavilion near the campground office. An adult must accompany children. Nature at the Pond is from noon to 2 p.m., near the restroom building at Pickerel Pond.

Pennsylvania state parks have a lot to offer, including trying a new hobby such as kayaking or trail walks for exercise, Yeager said.

“You really get exposed to a lot of things whenever you’re outdoors, not only just to learn about nature but also to be active and be healthy like that, too,” he said. “It’s an awesome opportunity for families to come out and spend some good quality time together.”

For more information on the events mentioned and others or to make camping reservations, visit www.visitpaparks.com.

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