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City Kids Experience Camping and Some Old-Time Fun at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area


Participants in the campout at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. NPS photo by John Heinhold

"Silver turtles" cooked over hot coals for supper, cane pole fishing, stories around the campfire and a Dutch oven breakfast aren't standard fare for most modern-day kids from the inner city, but a group of youngsters from the Atlanta area got to experience that and more during an overnight campout at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

The park staff used an “America’s Best Ideas” grant to put some great ideas to good use, and a bunch of inner-city kids were the winners. The park recently hosted its second of two overnight camping experiences for the youngsters, and along with an introduction to camping, the students got a literal taste of outdoor traditions, along with some hands-on, old-time fun.

According to a park spokesman, "the purpose of this program was to provide an opportunity for inner-city students to connect with their national parks, participate in an overnight camping adventure with a parent or guardian, and get involved in the out-of-doors. Out of a total of 48 campers…only 4 had ever been camping…so this was a new and unique experience for a great many."

It's encouraging to hear about a number of parks that are introducing a new generation to outdoor activities, and the staff Chattahoochee River came up with a nice way to combine an overnight camping trip with what could be described as an outdoor version of "living history." The event was held at the park's at newly acquired Hyde Farm.

Upon arrival at the farm, students and their parent chaperone were greeted by NPS staff, Cobb County staff, and volunteers to assist with tent set-up, followed by a time of cane-pole fishing. For many, the idea of putting a worm on a hook was frightening, but in retrospect many agreed they would do it again. After the fishing experience, participants were taken on an historic walk of the property (which was settled in the 1830s-40s).

Supper provided another chance to experience some campout traditions. There were plenty of smiles as participants sat around the campfire, enjoying a hot meal comprised of “silver turtles” (meat and vegetables wrapped in aluminum foil and heated atop campfire coals). The evening entertainment was reported to be a hit: a musician and storyteller combined stories from years ago with more contemporary “scary stories.”

Students got to participate in a storytelling workshop, which was performed in front of the audience, and had an opportunity to try their hand at various “old-time” instruments (such as spoons, washboard, limerick, and other rhythm instruments). Night sky viewing was an optional late-night activity and viewers were awed by the sight of Jupiter.

The next morning, participants had a hot breakfast which had been cooked in Dutch ovens on-site. A Leave No Trace program was provided, followed by station rotations to give kids “hands-on” experiences with butter churning, washing clothes on a washboard, plowing, sack races, and a nature walk.

Organizers report that the program was a huge success; "The campers had a fun time, and learned some valuable lessons along the way." In total, there were 55 participants (student campers and their chaperone, and Brumby Elementary school staff), plus 10 NPS staff members, 3 Cobb County staff members, and 12 volunteers who assisted during the overnight camping experience.

The program was funded by the National Park Foundation, through an “America’s Best Ideas” grant, and all food items were generously donated by Harry’s/Whole Foods Market.

Kudos to all involved!


This is a great use of the grant money from “America’s Best Ideas." We really need to focus on getting children off the internet and expose them to our national treasures.

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