Spring in Texas, with its pleasant temperatures, budding trees and riot of wildflowers, reigns as the most popular season for camping. So, there’s no better time than the coming months to participate in Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s increasingly popular program that introduces reluctant campers to the joys of pitching a tent under the stars.
Less than year old, the Texas Outdoor Family program has already reached more than 800 happy campers through more than a dozen events held at Texas state parks throughout south and central Texas. This spring, TOF staff and volunteers will expand the innovative outdoor camping program’s reach into north Texas and the Texas Panhandle.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon has scheduled a two-day TOF workshop on March 14-15. A little farther south at Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque, a TOF workshop will be offered May 9-10. In north Texas, families are invited to participate in the March 21 overnight campout at Cooper Lake State Park in Sulphur Springs. Also in north Texas, Ray Roberts Lake State Park will host a TOF workshop April 18-19 at its Isle Du Bois unit near Pilot Point, as well as at Lake Mineral Wells State Park on May 9-10. For more information and complete listing of upcoming spring workshops, visit the Texas Outdoor Family Web page.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department program appears not only to be removing barriers to enjoying camping and the great outdoors, but also to be reaching into urban communities to attract a diverse clientele, according to program coordinator Chris Holmes. So far, roughly two-thirds of the TOF participants have been non-Anglo, he says.
Jackie Romero, 30, of Edinburg, and her 8-year-old son, Noah, are representative of the kind of program participants Holmes is seeing in increasing numbers. Romero and her son participated in the two-day Texas Outdoor Family workshop in late January at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission.
Romero says she used to camp with her parents when she was a little girl, but hadn’t been camping in many years. Her son, like many of today’s children, had never camped out.
“I wasn’t very confident about how to put up a tent or cook outdoors,” Romero said. “When I read about it (TOF program) in the newspaper, I thought it would be fun to do and knew there would be people willing to help us and answer any questions I might have. It was no hassle, very easy-going and simple.”
Working from a list of recommendations she received prior to the workshop, the mom and wife brought along hot dogs, corn on the cob, sandwich fixings and even steaks to prepare outdoors at their campsite that was set up prior to the Romeros’ arrival on Saturday morning. Everything else was taken care of by TOF staff and volunteers who set up the tent and provided a butane cook stove, dishes and utensils, a lantern and firewood.
The Romeros and other families were able to choose from a number of daily outdoor activities — from geocaching, her son’s favorite, to kayaking and nature hikes. “My son loved it,” she said of the experience. “He wants to go camping now and geocaching.”
Romero and her son learned not only about the different birds, butterflies and plants of the Rio Grande Valley, but also came away with an appreciation of the natural treasure right in their backyard. “They told us about the area’s natural resources that we take for granted,” she said. “I didn’t realize birders from around the world come down here to see what we have.”
Each Texas Outdoor Family workshop is similar, but some activities are geared to the individual park’s natural resources that, for instance, might include kayaking if the park is located on a lake or river.
The workshop costs $55 per family (up to six people), and includes individual camping sites for each family, restrooms with hot showers, professional park ranger-led programs and instruction, overnight state park police officer public safety and security, and state park Junior Ranger certification program. The TOF program follows the ’Leave No Trace’ philosophy so it’s environmentally friendly.
Families can register by calling (512) 389-8903 and speaking to a Texas Outdoor Family representative Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-to-6 p.m., or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org anytime. After registration, a confirmation packet with directions and details will be sent.