Camping is a pretty new experience for the Gibson family. Their tent and sleeping bags are brand-new, used only once before in a backyard trial run.
“Normally my dad and his wife take us on outdoor adventures,” said Christy Gibson. “This is our first time camping by ourselves as a family. But I guess we aren’t really alone.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Gibsons and about 40 other South Sound residents hauled their gear out to Priest Point Park, a city of Olympia park on the east side of Budd Inlet. Normally, the park isn’t open for overnight camping. But for one night each summer, the public is welcome to pitch tents and learn the art of camping from Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation employees.
“Our goal is to teach people to camp,” said park ranger Sylvana Niehuser. “We have a lot of people who bring kids. A lot of them haven’t camped before, or they haven’t camped since they had kids.”
“We want the kids to connect with nature, and we want to give the adults tips,” she added.
Olympia has hosted the Great American Backyard Campout each year since 2011. Every year, campers come away with new friends and an appreciation for the city’s parks, Niehuser said.
The city provides the necessary gear — tents, sleeping bags, etc. — and a camping dinner of hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers. Campers are encouraged to bring side dishes to share. After dinner, Mayor Cheryl Selby was scheduled to come read campfire stories.
Rangers will also share their favorite places to camp, for those who feel up to camping on their own. Niehuser said her favorite camping spot is Cape Disappointment State Park, near Ilwaco in southwest Washington.
“For people camping with kids, state parks are really nice because they have amenities like flushing toilets,” she said.
Christy Gibson said that she, husband Bill Gibson and son Noah Gibson plan to try camping at other places later this summer. She said they’ll probably try Millersylvania State Park, in southern Thurston County.
Noah, 12, said he’s looking forward to “sleeping in the great outdoors.”
Daryl Green of Tacoma and his daughter, 7-year-old Lacey Green, attended the campout to spend time together and with other families. They attended last year and had a great time — there was a lot to do, and Lacey earned her junior ranger badge.
“She’s wearing it this year,” Green said. “She thinks she’s an expert now.”