Camping is a tradition as old as mankind.
For some, it’s a rite of passage. For others, it’s something they’ve managed to avoid their entire lives. And for those of you who fall into the latter but long to be a part of the former, Sesquicentennial State Park has just the 24-hour challenge for you.
For eight years now, Sesqui has offered a first-time campers program, similar to the National Wildlife Confederation’s program The Great American Backyard Campout.
“It was a nationwide program encouraging people to try camping just for one night – even if it was in your backyard – and that’s what started the idea,” said Stacey Jensen, Sesqui State Park interpreter. “We felt like Sesqui is Columbia’s backyard and was a great location to do a program because there are a lot of folks in our community that haven’t been camping before or may not realize that Sesqui has a campground.”
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The program’s goal is to create new campers and new visitors to state parks – and, as Jensen put it, to get people outdoors and away from their electronics. And to get families to spend time outside together and learn a new hobby in the process.
We’ve never had anyone bail at the beginning, but every year you’ll hear peoples’ cars running in the middle of the night and they’re sleeping in their car. And at least somebody leaves in the middle of the night, but most people stay.
Stacey Jensen, Sesqui State Park interpreter
Sesqui’s program accommodates 25 families with up to six members. Jensen said they staff heavily for the event because, as you can assume, teaching 25 new families how to camp in one day is a huge undertaking. It takes more than six months to plan, along with the help of local businesses and organizations like Get Your Gear On, Palmetto State Hangers (a hammock camping club), the Midlands Astronomy Club and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
“This year, we have a local author and storyteller coming out and telling ghost stories around the campfire,” said Jensen. “It takes an army of people to pull off this event.”
In the afternoon, workshops teach participants how to build a campfire and explain geocashing, and a two-hour clinic hones fishing skills. Cooking demonstrations are conducted throughout the day to show people how to cook meals over a campfire.
“One of the coolest things we do is we cook two or three whole turkeys over a campfire and everyone gets to sample it at dinnertime,” said Jensen. “It cooks all day, and we show them how to do it. And at the end, we email all the participants all the recipes that we use so that they have them.”
Participants also are free to try out any of the park’s activities – like hiking, mountain biking or paddling – during the camping class.
“Get Your Gear On brings out kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, and that’s where everybody goes,” Jensen laughed.
The program, as it sounds, is pretty foolproof for first-time campers. Many families who have participated in the program shared with Jensen how great the experience was.
“The feedback we get is absolutely overwhelming,” Jensen said, “saying how we impacted their lives and how much they enjoyed camping with us over the weekend and spending time with their families. We hear that a lot. Just knowing we’re having that impact on people is really amazing and that’s why we do it.”
Dwaun Sellers, email@example.com
If you go
Applications are due no later than Sunday, March 27 for the overnight camping class at Sesquicentennial State Park.
Where: 9564 Two Notch Road, Northeast Richalnd
When: Saturday, April 16 through Sunday, April 17
Cost: $50 per family of up to six people. A four-person tent will be provided for each family to use that night.
To attend: Applications are available at www.SouthCarolinaParks.com or at the park office. Deadline is Sunday, March 27. Families will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis and based on their level of camping experience.
Details: (803) 788-2706, firstname.lastname@example.org
Camping in the Columbia area
Want to camp close to home? No problem. A sampling of places at area parks that offer camping; log on to websites for cost, availability and other details:
Dreher Island State Park: Dreher spans three islands, 348 acres and 12 miles of Lake Murray shoreline. Fishing, nature trails and water activities are available. Campsites and villas; villas include gas logs and Wi-Fi. 3677 State Park Road, Prosperity; (803) 364-4152, www.southcarolinaparks.com/dreherisland/introduction.aspx
Sesquicentennial State Park: Campsites are available. Nature trails; canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals; and other activities are on-site. 9564 Two Notch Road; (803) 788-2706, www.southcarolinaparks.com/sesqui/introduction.aspx
Congaree National Park: Two campgrounds are available. More than 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of boardwalk; check with visitors center for possible closures. Guided programs are offered. Rent a canoe or kayak, or bring your own to explore the marked canoe trail. 100 National Park Road, Hopkins; (803) 776-4396, www.nps.gov/cong