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Great Outdoors Month Gives You A Chance To Connect With Nature

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Where will Great Outdoors Month find you? Kayaking at Glacier Bay National Park/Kurt Repanshek

Do you recall how old you were the first time you went camping? The answer to that question goes a long way to explaining how connected you are with the outdoors.

"One of my favorite stats that we need to go and change is that only 13 percent of campers camped for the first time after they were 16 years or older. So if you don'™t camp as a kid, you don'™t take your kids camping," says Dave Allen, president of The Coleman Co. that has a long history in helping campers enjoy the outdoors. "So we need this to be able to go and expose people to the outdoors, so they can A) understand everything it has to offer and B) hopefully go expose their kids to them later in life.'

"This" is National Great Outdoors Month, which was launched this past Friday and runs through July Fourth. Through the six-week-long promotion state and federal agencies across the nation will be promoting the opportunities and benefits of the outdoors, from state and city parks to national parks and forests. Groups as diverse as the American Hiking Society, the National Park Trust, the National Wildlife Federation, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, as well as corporations such as Coleman, Walmart, and the manufacturer of OFF! bug repellent, have united behind the drive to lure more Americans out of their houses and shopping malls and into parks.

"We need to expose people to all the parks and all the activities that we have outdoors," says Mr. Allen, who introduced his own daughters to hiking and camping while they were still in diapers.

To help provide that exposure, Coleman is sponsoring five "Capital Campouts" in the state capitals of Arkansas, Georgia, Colorado, Washington, and Kansas. These events are designed to show how easy it is, and enjoyable, to get involved in camping. Along with those events, Coleman and Walmart are creating "mini-campsites" in Walmart stores across the country and staffing them with rangers -- retired National Park Service rangers, seasonal rangers, and volunteers -- who stand ready to answer shoppers' questions about camping, where they can camp, and what gear they'll need.

While there has been in recent years much debate over whether national parks and other public lands appeal to minority groups, Mr. Allen said his company's role in National Great Outdoors Month isn't focused on any one specific racial demographic other than the young and their parents.

'œI think it'™s broader than anything from a diversity standpoint. What we'™re really trying to do is just introduce kids to the outdoors," he said during a phone interview. "We'™re doing that through a different number of groups. Both the Boy Scouts and the Girls Scouts, as well as the Boys and Girls clubs at a number of these Capital Campouts. So we'™re giving them product donations worth over $110,000. So, hopefully, what we'™ll do on the initial experience is get them intrigued and give them a great experience, and then through the product that we give each of these different nonprofits is give them the opportunity to go out and have that same experience either as an organization or with their families.'

Hopefully, he said, by interacting with the under-16 audience, National Great Outdoors Month can make a broader connection with Americans.

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A campout at Pea Ridge National Military Park sponsored by Coleman Co. and Walmart drew 40 youngsters and helped kick off Great Outdoors Month in May/The Coleman Co.

'œI think one of the better ways we get the parents involved is some of the 'activation' that we'™re doing through the stores," said the Coleman president. "We'™re doing these '˜ranger days tours'™ across 60 different stops throughout the country. That'™s where we have both state and federal agencies involved to be able to give people information on opportunities in their local areas about all the great opportunities there are to get outdoors that people might not be aware of. I think that'™s an awesome opportunity for us to go and engage with the parents. And then we also offer tools like camping checklists for the first-time camper so that we can make it easy and accessible.'

Throughout the six-week campaign, slightly different emphases are being placed on getting outdoors. The first week of June is being celebrated as National Fishing and Boating Week,  June 7 is National Trails Day, National Marina Day is the following weekend, as is National Get Outdoors Day, and the Great American Backyard Campout is set for June 28, 

While Mr. Allen and his young family will be heading to Rocky Mountain National Park to get their annual dose of the great outdoors, they won't necessarily be heading to a favorite part of the park.

"We haven'™t gone to the same place tiwce. This year Glacier Basin. Previously Moraine Park," he said. "We like to try something new every year.'

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