Hiking in the woods, stargazing and telling stories around the fire.

What do you remember about camping as a kid?

The memories that many families make together while enjoying nature and camping can last a lifetime.

Your next family adventure could be at the Westerville Parks & Recreation Great American Campout on Friday, September 11 at Heritage Park.

The Stein family participated in this overnight campout last year. It was the first time both seven year-old Alex and four year-old Zach went camping.

“The boys loved it. We already had a tent and thought it was a good way to introduce the kids to camping in a familiar setting,” said Jessica Stein, the boys’ mother.

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That was just what M.J. Smith, Westerville Parks and Recreation Naturalist, had in mind when launching the program.

“When I was a kid, I never got to go camping, and I always wanted to have that experience,” says Smith. “It inspired me to create this opportunity. This is a chance for first-time campers to get out in nature and try sleeping in a tent, all while still being close to home if younger children get uncomfortable.”

The event is a great for experienced campers as well.

“Our lives can get hectic, and even families who love to camp may have a hard time getting away. We supply the food, a space with restrooms and entertainment. Since participants don’t have to travel far or pack as many supplies as a typical camping trip, they can spend quality time with their families without having to worry about every detail,” said Smith.

After setting up tents, the night kicks off with a cookout, and of course, S’mores.

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“Kids get to learn how to safely make a meal over a campfire. There are a lot of children who either get overly excited around fire or scared. We want to avoid little ones swinging flaming marshmallows back and forth, so it is extremely important to go over the basics,” says Smith. “We teach them fire is a tool and just like a tool in your parent’s work box, you don’t use it without permission.”

As dinner wraps up, families can make craft before a night hike begins. Smith says the nature walk is her favorite part of the event.

“We walk the path together without flashlights looking for different kinds of animals and plants. Once everyone’s eyes adjust to the darkness, they realize they can actually see more and become better aware of their surroundings.”

The Stein brothers also enjoyed the night time experience. “It was really neat to see the park after hours; the moon was bright and helped guide our way,” said Stein. “Alex was a little afraid of the dark and held my hand, but he relaxed as we walked around and started using our other senses.”

After the walk, the group is free to play outside and then wind down for bed.

“I distinctly remember kids playing flashlight tag and my husband telling stories inside the tent before going to sleep,” said Stein. “I was surprised. We all slept well. It was quiet and you couldn’t tell we were still in the City.”

She says the whole family can’t wait to do the campout again. “We had a lot of fun. The kids learned new things and we got to unplug and make new memories together.”

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And what does young Zach Stein remember best?

“I found my first frog!” he exclaimed.

For more details on the Great American Campout and registration information, visit this link.