Camping in the Everglades doesn't hold much appeal for many Americans today, especially if they're city dwellers. Throw in worries about bugs, alligators and giant pythons, and a campout in the 'Glades can be a hard sell. Everglades National Park is overcoming those hurdles with a new approach that started with a reality TV program and an approach called CAMP.
The Everglades can be both fascinating and intimidating, especially for urbanites who haven't spent much time in the Great Outdoors, and the idea of spending the night in the wilds can be downright scary for a lot of folks. All the recent media coverage about big snakes on the loose in the swamps hasn't helped.
The staff at Everglades National Park decided to tackle that problem and has developed a program that's off to a great start. They developed their idea around a program called "Camping Adventure with My Parents" (CAMP), which was developed by the National Park Service mid-level management development program class of 2008. CAMP has also been used at other parks, including Mt. Rainier and Sequoia and Kings Canyon
At Everglades, the staff added another unique wrinkle—reality TV—and partnered with the local PBS station to film a program about a Miami family visiting the park and camping for the first time.
The production, Into the Wild: An Everglades Adventure, aired in October 2009 alongside the Ken Burns America’s Best Idea series. The stars of the show, the Roberts family, helped recruit new families for a recently concluded camping adventure and returned as “seasoned campers” to help acclimate the new CAMP families.
During round two of the effort this winter, the park and community partners invited several families for a weekend adventure of camping, canoeing, wildlife watching and “slough slogging” in the Everglades. Four urban families, ranging from two to seven members, challenged their abilities and tackled some fears for a two-day, one-night adventure that also included a night hike searching for alligators.
The park provided camping gear and food, courtesy of a grant from Toyota and the South Florida National Parks Trust. With a little guidance from park rangers, the families pitched their tents and cooked their own meals.
How did it go? According to the park, "By the end of the adventure, the families were inquiring about gear costs and how to go camping on their own. Each family received an annual park pass to return and all said they planned to return."
Everglades National Park has another five families scheduled for a CAMP program in March and hopes to repeat the activity twice each winter.