The First-Time Camper Program offers a bargain weekend getaway to encourage families to discover state parks.
For $45, park guests spend two nights in a modern campground and try out gear from REI, including a six-person tent, sleeping pads, chairs and camp stove.
Park staff will greet campers upon arrival, help them set up their tent and make a campfire, and even give a Camping 101 lesson.
At the end of their two nights away from home, campers return the gear to the park office, but they go home with coupons for their next adventure and memories to last forever.
Registration is required.
Park officials say Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” coined the phrase, “Nature Deficit Disorder,” shining a light on America’s growing disconnect with nature. They hope that projects such as First-Time Camper will give families an incentive to explore and appreciate the natural world around them.
Cindy Reittinger, coordinator of the First-Time Camper Program, said novices will receive expert advice.
“We realized that some people like the idea of camping, but they’re a little intimidated and don’t know if they can do it,” Reittinger said. “When they discover that it’s easier than they think to pitch a tent, or when they experience the thrill of hearing their first owl, they’ll realize how much fun camping can be.”
Reittinger said that part of the fun of sleeping in a tent is guessing about the noises you hear at night.
“What might sound scary at first could be an armadillo scurrying through leaves or a raccoon climbing a tree,” she said. “People often get a big laugh when they peek outside and see what it is, and kids love the excitement.”
Six of Georgia’s state parks offer the pilot program. They are A.H. Stephens State Park in Crawfordville, Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, James H. Floyd State Park near Rome, Reed Bingham State Park in Adel, Skidaway Island State Park in Savannah, and Victoria Bryant State Park near Lavonia.
Parks were chosen for their variety of outdoor recreation, proximity to larger cities, and camp-loving staff.
Groups of up to 20 people also can try the First-Time Camper program at two northern Georgia state parks, Fort Mountain and Victoria Bryant.
Multiple families or groups of friends can camp for one night, with all the benefits of the regular program, plus even more help from park rangers.
Rates vary by the size of the group. Dates for the group camp-outs are April 21 and Aug. 18 at Fort Mountain and June 9 at Victoria Bryant.
Anyone who has never camped in a Georgia state park may participate. While dogs are normally welcome in campgrounds, they are not allowed in the program since camping gear is shared among participants.
Once settled in, park guests can hike, bike, fish, boat, and participate in geocaching, mini-golf, animal programs and many other activities. Reservations are required and can be made by calling Cindy Reittinger, at 404-657-0029.
Park telephone numbers are posted on www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/FirstTimeCamper.