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Program gets kids off the couch and into the tent

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Long before Karoline Hurd became involved with the Great American Backyard Campout, she and her young children would pitch tents and make s'mores behind the family's suburban home.

"That's not the norm anymore," said Hurd, the senior manager of special events for the National Wildlife Federation. "Most American kids spend the majority of their time indoors."

As part of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Outdoors Month, the ninth Great American Backyard Campout is scheduled for June 22.

The event is also part of an initiative to get 2 million more children outdoors for at least 30 minutes per week over the next two years. Last year's backyard campout event drew approximately 180,000 participants nationally, according to Hurd.

"We want them [children] to slow down and get them away from their overscheduled lives," Hurd said. "You don't need a lot of money or a lot of camping equipment. It's simply to get people to get outside and connect with nature. It just teaches children about nature and [gets them] outside and unplugged."

Locations in Maryland with special campout programs, which are free to the public, include: Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County, Elk Neck State Park in Cecil County and Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary's County, according to Maryland Park Service public relations and marketing manager Christina Holden.

"It's an opportunity to camp at a place where we don't normally offer camping," Holden said.

But Holden likes to note that "every weekend is a Great American Campout to us. That we have the opportunity to introduce camping to families is pretty cool."

Hurd said people can camp out in many settings.

"They can go to local neighborhood parks, their backyard or even a balcony," Hurd said. "We've seen all forms of camping. You can camp out in an RV. It's just getting outside and looking at the stars. There's a lot of free things you can do if you're an urban camper. You don't have to have wildlife right in front of you."

Hurd said the most interesting setting she has experienced was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. N.Y.

"They had never allowed camping in an urban setting like that," Hurd said. "We had rangers with us. We had about 50 people — not too many — but most of them had never camped out before. Most of our campers are first-time campers."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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