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Your ticket to the great outdoors

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Isaiah Barella, 9, of Grants Pass, whittles a stick while camping at Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area. If you’re a little nervous about a trip into the woods but are envious as your neighbors pack the car and head for the hills, Oregon’s Let’s Go Camping program is for you. It’s designed to help novice campers with the basics.Jamie Lusch
 Posted: 2:00 AM July 20, 2013

Neither "torrential" rain nor her husband's absence could deter Lisa Greenfield from taking her two daughters — 7 and 9 — to Silver Falls State Park two years ago for their very first camping trip.

They were guided there by the state's Let's Go Camping program, which was devised to give novice campers the skills and confidence they need to become camping aficionados.

In Greenfield's case, the program must have worked, because the very next summer she struck out again — undaunted even by 108-degree heat — for Valley of the Rogue State Park.

Let's Go Camping

tips for novices

When pitching a tent, look for dry, level, rock-free ground that is not downwind of the fire ring. Don't place the tent in a hollow, because if it rains, the tent will be in a puddle. Clear away any twigs, rocks and pine cones to minimize lumps in your bed.

• A liner can extend the life of a sleeping bag by protecting the inside of the bag from oil and dirt so it won't need to be laundered as often, which reduces its loft and insulating properties. Remember, a sleeping bag without a liner is like an envelope without a letter.

• Precook food at home and freeze it, thawing and reheating at camp. The frozen items will help keep other foods cold, plus it saves time and cooking fuel, and reduces cleanup at camp.

• When planning the main course, prepare portions that will be consumed entirely at that meal, eliminating the need to store leftovers and minimizing food waste.

• Do not wash dishes at the campground's water-supply faucet. Food smells attract animals, and spilled water makes a muddy, messy area for other campers who come to get water. Use the three-basin dishwashing method: hot, soapy water in the first container, rinse water in the second, and sanitizing solution (cold water with fives drops of bleach per gallon) in the third.

•Use a camp stove for cooking. Stoves are easier to cook on and have less impact on the natural environment than a fire.

•Before gathering firewood, check local regulations. Don't take firewood from one locale to use elsewhere because invasive insect species could be moved along with it, creating the potential for significant environmental damage.

"A lot of people I know were going camping," says the Lake Oswego resident. "It just seemed like a wonderful thing to do here in Oregon."

Bringing "very little" experience to the pastime, Greenfield learned that camping is "not that hard" during overnight excursions with Let's Go Camping, which drew more than 450 campers to 16 events held at state parks throughout the state last year.

This year, the program is setting up camp today and Sunday at Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area at Lost Creek Lake.

"We have group campfires and do s'mores," says Greenfield, who plans to attend two more Let's Go campouts, this time as a volunteer.

With grant funding and equipment donations, Let's Go Camping supplies participants with most of their essentials — minus food. Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping-bag liners and mattress pads, as well as use of camp stoves, all are at campers' disposal. The fee of $30 per family also furnishes hands-on activities and assistance from program staff and volunteers.

"There's just all that goodness there," says Greenfield of Oregon state parks, 16 of which are hosting Let's Go Camping events through Aug. 25.

The program's first foray into Southern Oregon was last year at Valley of the Rogue, attended by Greenfield and 33 other families in July. The program will expand to 24 trips in 2014, says Jimmy Childs, special projects coordinator for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

"This is an important outreach program for us," says Childs.

Let's Go Camping has proven so popular that the parks department this year rolled out a Let's Go day-trip format for activities such as hiking, birding, paddling, even disc golf. Almost all of those events, free and facilitated largely by volunteers, take place in the northern Willamette Valley, says Childs. But more activities, certainly fishing, will make the list in coming years as Let's Go extends its reach into other areas of Oregon, he adds.

Let's Go Camping started at Portland's Tryon Creek State Park in 1998. It became so popular that the volunteer group coordinating it turned it over to the state four years ago. Other states have started modeling Oregon's program in pursuit of grants from companies such as The North Face, which was "very generous" this year with Let's Go Camping, says Childs.

In addition to Stewart, new campout locations this year are Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay, Willamette Mission State Park near Salem (for Spanish speakers) and Milo McIver State Park near Oregon City, where families of children with autism-spectrum disorders will have an exclusive event that sold out in 10 days, says Childs.

For the full Let's Go calender, see and click on the "Let's Go" tab under "Things to Do." Hiking, building campfires and Dutch-oven cooking are featured activities on any Let's Go campout. Campers also learn camping basics and outdoors ethics, along with some natural history and ecology.

All the fixings for evening s'mores and Sunday morning cinnamon rolls are provided. Otherwise, participants are responsible for their own meals, outdoors-appropriate clothing, sunscreen, insect repellent and transportation to and from the park, which allows for arrival Friday evening before the official start Saturday morning. About a month before an excursion, the program sends out a checklist of items to bring, he adds.

Let's Go Camping's $30 fee increased this year from $20 — "too unbelievably cheap" — in previous years, says Childs. More closely mirroring regular overnight fees for state-run campgrounds, that price pays for the entire family, regardless of the number of people per reservation. Single campers also can sign up, says Childs, adding that Let's Go Camping eases the experience for single parents and seniors.

Unlike the majority of reservations for state campgrounds, Let's Go Camping cannot be booked online. Call 1-888-953-7677 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or

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