'Tis the season for camping
Published: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 10:15 p.m.
When Steve Clark and his family go camping, they don't use just any old tent to experience the great outdoors. That's just out of the question.
__Axe or hammer
__Air mattress/sleeping pad/cot/tarp
__Repair kit for air mattress
__Utility bags for storage
__Large water jug & water bucket
__Pots and frying pans with lids
__Stove with fuel/propane
__Cooking utensils-spatula, knife, spoon
__Can opener/bottle opener
__Campfire grill/BBQ grill
__Paper plates, bowls and cups
__Heavy-duty aluminum foil
__Cooking oil/Pam spray
__Containers for food storage
__Shower shoes/flip flops
__Soap in plastic case/shampoo
__Tooth brush/tooth paste
__Camping shower/shower pump
__Personal medications (take extra)
__Lantern with fuel/mantles
__Plastic grocery bags
__Canteen/water bottle/coffee pot
__Cell phone/charger & 2-way radios/walkie talkies
__Musical instruments/song books
__First aid kit
__Park map/guidebooks/trail maps
__Lantern pole or hanger
__Hot chocolate/tea bags/coffee
__Marshmallows, Graham crackers, Hershey bars (Smores)
__Tell someone of your plans; give details of where you are going and when you expect to return; give directions and possible alternative roads that you may take; provide cell-phone numbers, vehicle description and license-plate numbers, hand-held radio channel and codes that you will use
So on this chilly and clear winter night, Clark, his wife, Rhonda, and their son, Jacob, do what they usually do when they go camping - they pitch their 12-foot-tall teepee at campsite 19 at the Paynes Prairie State Preserve.
That's right - a teepee.
The Gainesville family has been using the teepee for 10 years, and Clark says it's the best way to go.
"When there's bad weather, we'll switch to a tent, but on a weekend like this, nothing beats the teepee," Clark says.
Huddled around a crackling fire, the Clarks reminisce on old family memories and feast on homemade beef stew. The din of crickets and occasional hooting of owls serve as the soundtrack to the family's camping adventure.
Both real estate agents by day, the Clarks have been camping ever since they married 15 years ago. They say their weekend escapes to Florida's campgrounds give them a chance to enjoy nature's canvas - and each other's company.
"Camping is a great way to relax and rely on yourself," Clark says. "There's no question that our son will carry on this tradition for years to come."
Hundreds of options
From Pensacola to the Florida Keys, there are hundreds of places to go tent camping in the Sunshine State - many in our own back yard.
And with cool temperatures, mild weather and few bugs, campers and rangers say now is the time to grab your tents and head out for a camping trip.
Matt Mitchell, spokesman for Florida State Parks, said that the winter months are the busiest for the state's parks. With a lack of bugs and all the snowbirds from the North flying down to the South for the winter, it's no wonder 19.1 million people visited Florida parks last year, Mitchell said.
"Cooler weather gives the ambience of sitting around a camp fire, bundling up in a tent or sleeping bag," Mitchell said. "There's an excitement in the air when you rely on fire for warmth and cooking. Camping is a tradition."
And with Florida's mild temperatures in the wintertime, Mitchell suggested that people take advantage of the seasonal weather now before it's gone.
If you're looking for places to pitch your tent nearby, Paynes Prairie, the Ocala National Forest and O'Leno State Park are just a few of many camping havens across North Central Florida.
David Jowers, manager of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, says more than 125,000 campers flock to the 21,000-acre park each year. And at just $4 per car (up to eight people) and $15 a night to camp, Paynes Prairie is an affordable getaway, Jowers says.
"It's a wonderful place with a quiet atmosphere where you can come and observe wildlife and walk nature trails," Jowers says of the prairie. "We draw a clientele that enjoys camping with little distractions, so people need to be conscious of other campers."
Jowers says the allure of tent camping is its simplicity. Bringing your own firewood, the right gear and a ready-to-relax state of mind are necessities for a fun and memorable camping experience.
Where to start?
If you've never been camping, you may ask yourself, "What do I bring and where do I start?" The first step is to plan ahead, says Johnny Molloy. Author of a series of "Best in Tent Camping" books that highlight the best tent-camping sites in several states, including Florida, Molloy says that focusing on what you want out of the trip will not only help you plan better, it will also help you relax.
A veteran tent camper of more than 20 years, Molloy has written more than 10 tent-camping guide books and has pitched his tent in 42 states and Canada. Molloy lives in Knoxville, Tenn., and calls tent camping a "way to get back to nature." He says it gives him an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
"We're always rushing around," Molloy says. "Camping lets you get away from your car, your house, modern electronics and the other things that consume your life. It puts you in a situation where it's just about you."
Paynes Prairie State Preserve Park is among Florida's best campgrounds, Molloy says. The park offers modern conveniences such as showers, bathrooms, camp-site water spigots and electrical outlets. He also suggests a trip to Cayo Costa State Park in southwest Florida. After hopping aboard a ferry to the isolated beach park, campers can beach-camp and enjoy the Gulf of Mexico's scenery. Another camping hot spot is Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest, Molloy says. There, campers can enjoy a tropical-like setting, a large icy-blue spring and the nearby spring-fed creek that can be explored by canoe.
"People think Florida is South Beach and Disney, but I see swamps, rivers, the Everglades and pine forests. Florida has some huge and beautiful natural areas that are worthy of people's time to explore," Molloy says.
Molloy suggests that tent-camping beginners start by borrowing as much camping gear as possible - especially cooking stoves and tents - to keep expenses down. Later, if you really catch the tent-camping bug, then start investing in the more expensive gear.
"Borrow, borrow, borrow," Molloy suggests. You don't need to spend a lot of money on gear to have a good time. Make sure to pack enough clothing, but don't overdo it."
Reservations for camp sites at any of Florida's state parks must be made online at ReserveAmerica.com or you can visit www.floridastate
parks.org for more information about Florida's parks.
But wherever you choose to go, remember to bring a sense of adventure and a carefree attitude, Molloy says. Having both could make all the difference in having the time of your life or having a miserable tent-camping experience.
"If you plan well enough ahead, there won't be any surprises," says Malloy. "You'll make great memories and meet a lot of interesting people on the way."
Deborah Ball can be reached at (352) 374-5036 or email@example.com.
FYI: Tips for
Johnny Molloy, author of a series of "Best in Tent Camping" books that includes Florida, offers these tent-camping necessities:
Things won't go right the first time, so you have to roll with the punches and remember that tent camping is an adventure and it's meant to be fun - not a military operation.
Bring treats that you'll like. Cooking outdoors is a challenge, but it's fun.
Eureka! and Timberline are the Chevys of tents - they are reliable and affordable.
Beginning campers are not used to sleeping on hard ground, so if you have a decent sleeping gear, it makes your overnight experience more enjoyable and comfortable.
Coleman camp stoves work wonders. Try to borrow one and save money.
Women will want to pack more outfits, but don't be afraid to re-wear certain items. You'll have a car, so you'll have space to store gear.
Bring that favorite novel or magazine or newspaper (The Gainesville Sun, perhaps). You'll have a lot of free time on your hands, so bring something to keep yourself occupied, but try to stay away from electronics.
Before you camp, be sure to . . .
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