Newsflash: New York State Wants to Get More Families Camping

Trying a new outdoor activity for the first time can be an exciting and potentially life-changing experience. It can also be intimidating, especially with camping. Typically, it requires a couple days’ commitment, sleeping someplace other than your bed, and using possibly unfamiliar gear. To counter that, New York State started its First-Time Camper program in 2017. Created through a partnership between the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the program helps out families who have never before slept under the stars.

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The program gives participants everything needed for an authentic camping experience, eliminating the need to invest in any equipment upfront. Families receive a tent, sleeping bags and pads, chairs, a lantern, and even firewood. As a bonus, they can keep it all, so they can continue camping on their own.

The program also sets participants up with a Camping Ambassador. With environmental education backgrounds, they are members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps and are on-site to help set up camp and answer questions. Each adventure takes place over two nights, and during, the experts assist with various activities, including paddling, fishing, birdwatching, and hiking.

“I can’t begin to explain the incredible experience my family had.”

The program will run seven weekends during July and August at 13 camping locations spread across the state. This allows more families to participate. Potential campers can submit an application from May 10 through May 13 and may specify their campground and date preferences. The organizations will then select 65 families at random. In total, each of the 13 participating campgrounds will host five families.

Ideally, the First-Time Camper program will reach underserved populations, including those who can’t financially risk “buying before trying” or have little exposure to a wilderness environment. The experience then offers the opportunity to form life-long memories in a nurturing atmosphere. Campers surveyed from the 2017 program indicated they were “very satisfied,” and 90 percent stated that they are “extremely likely to go camping again.”

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

“I can’t begin to explain the incredible experience my family had,” said one camper. “Our camp ambassadors were awesome—so friendly, so smart, and so patient with sharing all of their knowledge. We learned so much. We are so excited to be able to start going as a family and explore the parks and experience all that we can.”