If you’ve never gone camping before, you might think that sleeping outside means being eaten by bears, but (most of the time) that’s not true. First-time campers hardly ever get hit by lightning or have trees fall on them. What really happens is they giggle in the dark, dine on s’mores baked over a real campfire, make friends they’ll never forget and they learn to love the outdoors.
Know someone who has never spent a night in a tent before? If you do, the Georgia State Parks’ First-Time Camper Program has an offer you can’t refuse. Before you go out and buy your own sleeping pad, skyhook, tent, smoke shifter and plastic sporks, you can borrow enough gear to get you through an overnight stay in more than a dozen state parks — including Red Top Mountain State Park on Lake Allatoona — in the great State of Georgia.
Yes, it’s true. More than 300 families have already taken part in this three-year-old program. Park staff and volunteers greet campers upon arrival, give tips on setting up the tent and offer a Camping 101 lesson.
For just $50, guests spend two nights in a modern campground, trying out all the gear they’ll need. Equipment donated by REI and Coleman includes a family tent, sleeping pads, chairs, camp stove, fuel and lantern.
Please Note: Skyhooks and smoke shifters are only available when reserved in advance. Thank you.
Survivors … I mean … campers will find bathrooms and hot showers close by their campsites.
There’s nothing to be afraid of! Look on the bright side! If you capture a giant wild Bigfoot, you’ll be rich and famous!
At the end of their getaway, campers return the gear and go home with memories that will last forever.
“We often hear visitors say they like the idea of camping, but they don’t have the equipment and aren’t sure they’ll enjoy it,” said the program’s coordinator Ellen Graham. “Once they see how easy it is to pitch a tent and maybe even experience the thrill of hearing an owl, they’ll realize how much fun camping can be.”
State Parks currently in the First-Time Camper program:
- A.H. Stephens in Crawfordville
- F.D. Roosevelt in Pine Mountain
- Fort Mountain near Chatsworth
- Fort Yargo in Winder
- General Coffee near Douglas
- Gordonia-Alatamaha in Reidsville
- James H. Floyd near Summerville
- Magnolia Springs in Millen
- Reed Bingham in Adel
- Red Top Mountain on Lake Allatoona
- Richard B. Russell on Lake Russell
- Skidaway Island in Savannah and
- Stephen C. Foster in the Okefenokee Swamp.
- Both Fort Mountain and Red Top Mountain have enough equipment for larger families or groups up to 20 people.
Park officials hope that projects such as First-Time Camper will give families an incentive to explore and appreciate the natural world around them.
Anyone who has never camped in a Georgia State Park may participate. While leashed dogs are normally welcome in campgrounds, they are not allowed in the First-Time Camper program since gear is shared among participants.
Once settled in, guests can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, boating, geocaching, mini-golf, wildlife programs and many other activities. Reservations are required and must be made by calling the individual parks.
Learn to love the woods … without being afraid … in the First-Time Camper program.