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Outdoors: An incentive program sure to light your (camp)fire

Definition: camping (ˈkampiNG)

  1. The activity spending a vacation living in a camp, tent, or camper.

Camping is an outdoor activity that can have a huge effect on your life. At the top of the list, it’s a fantastic family bonding experience. It brings people together.

It also encourages a sense of responsibility. Everyone should have a job to do as you pull it all together for setting up your campsite or preparing a meal. From collecting kindling for the fire to fetching a bucket of water for dishes, every task is important. Make sure you keep the door closed!

At the same time, it brings you to nature in its most basic sense. There have been books written about this country’s disconnect with nature and the importance of reconnecting. Not just a physical connection but also a mental one. Camping can do that for you, allowing you to relax and unwind, get yourself (and your family) away from the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced society. Put away those smart phones, iPads and game consoles; get ready for some fishing, a hike and some canoeing or kayaking. It doesn’t matter what the outdoor activity is, you might want to give it a try if you haven’t already.

Camping and the long list of associated outdoor opportunities can be physically challenging. By the end of the day, sleeping isn’t normally a problem –especially after sitting around a robust campfire getting you as toasty as a marshmallow. It doesn’t matter that the mattress or sleeping pad isn’t as nice as the one at home and the pillows are subpar. Waking up in the morning at a campsite is something special.

Brewing a fresh cup of coffee (with an electric coffee pot or the old-fashion way over the campfire) and sitting yourself down to an early-morning fire is invigorating. The bird sounds slowly announce sunrise and it isn’t long before other campfires are burning around you, the crackling of logs providing a foundation for a welcome background orchestra of outdoor-related instruments. Wood is being split, dishes are rattling and the first meal of the day nears. Everyone should be able to enjoy these experiences, the smell of a burning fire and the whiff and sounds of the forest.

Catches of the Week (May 10)

To help make that happen, the Empire State is introducing a new First-Time Camper Program through the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), offering families the opportunity to give camping a try first before they purchase any equipment.

The new campers will be provided with a family tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camp chairs, a lantern, and firewood. A Camping Ambassador will meet families at the campsite and help them get camp set up with a Camping 101 lesson. Bathrooms and hot showers are a short walk from the campsites. To make the weekend getaway even more enjoyable, campers will have an opportunity to learn from experts how to fish, hike, bird watch, paddle and more, all while having fun and making memories that last forever. It certainly sounds like a winner.

Jumping in a canoe - and doing a little fishing - enhances the camping experience.

The people you encounter while camping seem friendlier, always willing to wave or chat a minute as they walk or drive by. People who are into camping – happy campers – have a common bond with nature. They get it.

Life is good when camping is a part of it. Then again, I grew up with camping. It’s in my blood. It all started before I was born, too. My grandparents, Irvin and Dorothy Hilts, were camp-a-holics (if there is such a thing). Not only did they camp across the country (including regular stints in the Adirondacks every summer and Florida in the winter), Grandma Hilts wrote a book about it – “Wheels of Joy.”  It was a paperback about her camping adventures … and I was along for many of them (after I was born). From trips attending Outdoor Writers Association of America conferences in places like Saskatchewan, Colorado and Idaho to the many adventures throughout New York, it’s been a long road. In fact, my first camping trip was when I was 6 months old.

We started out in tents but progressed to travel trailers when Grandpa and Grandma Hilts started selling Serro Scotty and Tag-A-Long trailers at their home in Sanborn. Despite the huge upgrade, there were times when we recessed to our tent days as we grew older. A week long canoeing trip into the wilds of Algonquin Provincial Park or the border waters above Minnesota; a weekend in the Thousand Islands or a vacation in the Adirondacks – tents were the way to go as a young adult. The destination of choice was Lewey Lake in Hamilton County near Speculator. The memories are endless and still live on even though some were more than five decades ago.

A beautiful sunset at Daisy Barn campground in Wilson.

As for the First-Time Camper Program, eight campgrounds are available throughout the state. Reservations are required and will be taken on a first come, first served basis beginning on May 17. Call 585-474-6718 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The dates and campsites offering this opportunity are:

  1. 7/7-7/9 – North South Lake (Catskills) (;
  2. 7/14-7/16 – Wellesley Island State Park (1000 Islands) –;
  3. 7/21-7/23 – Paradox Lake (Adirondacks) (
  4. 7/28-7/30 – Schodack Island State Park (Saratoga/Capital District) –
  5. 8/4-8/6 – Kenneth L Wilson (Catskills) (
  6. 8/11-8/13 – Green Lakes State Park (Central) –
  7. 8/18-8/20 – Hearthstone Point (Adirondacks) (
  8. 8/25-8/27 – Hamlin Beach State Park (Genesee) –

Give it a try. You just might like it. For more information on this program go to

The Fishing Beat (May 10)



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