For Orion Buster, this was not a typical Friday night. “I’d probably be in my room,” said the 15-year- old. Instead, he was outside, setting up a tent, playing Frisbee and eating hamburgers hot off the grill.
Welcome to the Governor’s Capital Campout – an overnight event celebrating National Great Outdoors Month. These special events are held by State Parks agencies across the country in an effort to encourage families who live in their state’s capital city to enjoy their natural surroundings. Here in Little Rock, eight families were asked if they would like to participate. A majority of them had never camped before. With that in mind, Coleman USA donated the necessary equipment to make this experience a user-friendly one. For each family, the supplies included:
- 1 six-person tent
- 1 LED lantern
- 1 60-quart cooler
- Camp chair for each family member
- Sleeping bag for each family member
- Camp pillow for each family member
“That’s the best part,” said Shawanda Robinson, one of the parents. “We get to keep all of this great stuff but we get to share with other people and tell them about this program, so really that’s the best thing.”
Arkansas State Parks Director Grady Spann also donated a gift certificate for two free nights of camping at any state park so families could put their new gear to use, following the event, and continue their connection with the outdoors and state parks.
“It’s really cool to see the kids as their eyes light up when I say, ‘Are you ready to spend the night outdoors tonight?’” said Spann. “They got so excited about it. To me, that’s really the connection I’m looking for.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson came out to the Capital Campout to congratulate the families for trying this for the first time, as well as to encourage them to continue spending quality time outside.
“Just remember how lucky we are in the state of Arkansas for all of what you see because not every state has it,” said Governor Hutchinson. “You’ve got an incredible park system – it’s all about the outdoors. It’s about family, making memories, and creating wonderful traditions.”
Sysco Foods donated enough hamburgers and hotdogs to feed any army, plus breakfast, lunch, and s’mores for the campfire– so no one went hungry for sure!
“It’s a joy to your heart to be able to feed kids because they are always so thankful,” said Sysco’s Mike Griffith. “Every child I had come through tonight, honest to Pete, told me thank you and we appreciate it. If we reach out and help children, then only good can come from that.”
Westrock Coffee donated coffee and supplies for the event, which was much-appreciated by the grown-up campers who were greeted by the sun and their excited children at about 6 a.m.!
This event couldn’t have been so successful without the Arkansas state park staff. The families kicked off the campout by making family flags they could take on future campouts. Park interpreters, in the spirit of what they do daily in state parks, helped the families feel comfortable and connect with the outdoors in various ways. They helped them set up their campsites, light the campfire and cook s’mores, bait fish hooks, took them kayaking, and led a nighttime nature hike so they could hear owl calls and other nocturnal wildlife. State park rangers were also on hand to help the families feel safe and handle any emergencies, although thankfully there were none. The families also received event T-shirts designed by state parks graphic artist Marty Smith. They will be able to wear these conversation starters and encourage others to get outdoors.
“It’s important to have people get out in the parks,” said park interpreter Luke Pearson. “A lot of people are getting too accustomed to urban settings. We want people to get out into the forest, see some wildlife, and just have fun!”
From the smiles on the faces of parents and children alike, it was evident that this experience has convinced these participants that camping and living and outdoor lifestyle is the way to go.
“Our goal was to help new and beginner camping families feel safe and comfortable for a night of State Park camping, so they would leave with their own goals of becoming regular campers,” said Program Services Manager Kelly Farrell. “Based on the smiles I saw and stories about terrific experiences that I heard, it seems we were successful! Families made memories, new friendships were established, and we have a new crew of state park ambassadors ready to help share our state parks story.”
Governor Hutchinson summed it up, “You can do it all of your life and you’ll never forget it.”
Plan your Arkansas state park adventure by visiting www.ArkansasStateParks.com and click on “Events” to choose from the 50,000 annual events and programs offered.