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State parks offering new campers lessons, equipment
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Georgia State Parks

First-Time Camper Program

How much: $45, plus $5 ParkPass

Includes: Two-night stay at modern campground, camping gear rental including a 6-person tent, assistance setting up your campsite and a Camping 101 lesson

Information: www.georgiastateparks.org/firsttimecamper. When contacting participating parks, be sure to identify yourself as a first-time camper.

Fort Yargo State Park, Winder: 770-867-3489

A.H. Stephens Historic Park, Crawfordville: 706-456-2602

Victoria Bryant State Park, near Lavonia: 706-245-6270

James H. Floyd State Park, near Rome: 706-857-0826

Reed Bingham State Park, Adel: 229-896-3551

Skidaway Island State Park, Savannah: 912-598-2300

Novice campers have a friend in the Georgia State Parks system.

The parks group has recently launched its First-Time Camper program, which allows folks to get the full camping experience with only a partial financial investment.

The $45 fee includes a two-night stay at a participating campground, a Camping 101 lesson from a park ranger and an equipment rental. The borrowed equipment is provided by REI — an outdoor equipment and clothing company.

The package includes the use of a six-person tent, a camp stove with fuel, a lantern, two camp chairs and four self-inflating sleeping pads.

"There are a lot of people out there who love being in nature and are interested in having the camping experience, but they aren’t sure of everything that’s involved," said Kim Hatcher, parks public affairs coordinator.

"This gives them the opportunity to try it out and see if they like it, before they invest in their own gear."

Six parks statewide are participating in the pilot program, including Fort Yargo State Park in Winder and Victoria Bryant State Park in Franklin County. The parks "were chosen for their variety of outdoor recreation, proximity to larger cities and camp-loving staff."

When campers arrive, they’ll be greeted by a member of the park’s staff, who will help them set up their tent, make a campfire and give a brief lesson on the ins and outs of camping.

"We realized that some people like the idea of camping, but they’re a little intimidated and don’t know if they can do it," said Cindy Reittinger, the program
coordinator.

"When they discover that its easier than they think to pitch a tent, or when they experience the thrill of hearing their first owl, they’ll realize how much fun camping can be."

To participate in the program, potential campers should contact the park directly.

On June 9, Victoria Bryant park will be available for larger groups wishing to take advantage of the First-Time Camper program together for a one-night stay. The same amenities are included, just on a larger scale, for up to 20 people. The fee for the group outing depends on the number of guests in the party.

The parks staff is hoping to use the program as an opportunity to do a little showing off.

"There are 48 state parks and almost 2,500 campsites across Georgia," Hatcher said.

"I don’t think many people realize the variety of campsites that are available. We have RV sites, areas strictly for tents and everything in between."

For instance, Winder’s Fort Yargo has 40 different campsites, including three cottages and five yurts. A "yurt" is an elevated structure made of wood and canvas. It features furniture to sleep six, electricity, a deck and an outdoor cooking area.

Although the state park system features some primitive campsites, there are others that include bathhouses with hot showers, electricity and in some cases wireless Internet access.

There are also recreational opportunities like hiking, biking, fishing, geocaching and miniature golf.

"With spring break and summer break coming up and gas prices going up, I think this will be a very attractive option for families who didn’t think they’d be able to take a vacation this year," Hatcher said.

The cost of the First-Timer package, which includes equipment, is less than the usual cost of renting a campsite alone for two days.

Even still, the regular costs are still low — around $25 per night at most sites.

"This is a good way to be exposed to the resources available at the state parks and to get a feel for the atmosphere of the campgrounds," Hatcher said.

"When you return your rental equipment, you’ll get a coupon for discounted parking at the state parks and for REI gear, so if you like it, we hope you’ll come back for another visit."

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