Experts divulge the do’s and don’ts of camping

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published July 12, 2017

 Family camping can be more than putting up tents. It can involve dog-walking, geocaching and more. Family bonding is an element that experts say is important to camping.

Family camping can be more than putting up tents. It can involve dog-walking, geocaching and more. Family bonding is an element that experts say is important to camping.

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METRO DETROIT — Jody Johnston doesn’t need your Wi-Fi. 

And please keep your cellphones and televisions too.

The Silver Lake State Park manager, who lives near the park in Mears — halfway between Muskegon and Ludington — just cares about getting back to the basics whenever he goes camping with his wife and his kids, ages 11 and 14.

Johnston, who has worked at Silver Lake State Park since 1997 — except for three years at Holland State Park — said that camping is connecting with nature and one another without wondering if you have enough bars on your phone.

“Personally, I think sometimes it is nice in the modern world ... to get away from the electronic devices and getting back to nature and see what nature has to offer in the outdoors,” he said.

That is why he tries to get his kids to understand that camping is important, he added. 

Camping has been a part of Johnston’s life since his parents introduced him to it. His dad loved fishing, hiking and camping, and his mother grew up on a farm. 

There is a plethora of options for campers at Silver Lake State Park’s 200 campsites — just don’t forget to make a reservation. The campsites are reservable six months in advance of the day of arrival, Johnston said, adding that the campsites range from rustic and primitive to modern — with plumbing and electric amenities.

“There are a few state parks that actually have full hookup and increased electrical service,” he said, adding that his park has modern bathrooms, a sanitation and dump station, and more.

People interested in camping with recreation vehicles are welcome too.

He said people looking to camp with tents may do so on grass, blacktop, paved sites or dirt.

Johnston added that the paved sites are accessible for people with physical limitations.

Johnston said that he has seen a lot of campers use tents that are cheaply made, and if rain or wind comes knocking, their tent topples down.

“I recommend people get the best quality tent that they can afford with their budget,” he said.

Johnston added that campers interested in saving a buck or two should also purchase a Recreation Passport at the Secretary of State’s Office, which expires with their driver’s license.

The passport gets them discounts at nearly 1,200 businesses around the state.

“It is a really a neat program (that) benefits private businesses and benefits the public,” he said, adding that some people buy the passport even when they don’t go to state parks.

Those looking to introduce their kids to camping can try out something like the Great Farmington Hills Campout, typically held the week after Memorial Day in Farmington Hills. The event allows people the opportunity to camp a little closer to home, said April Heier, Farmington Hills recreation supervisor. Participants may choose to camp in Heritage Park, 24915 Farmington Road, or in their own backyard.

While there, families can partake in nature tours and trail hikes and just enjoy some free time. The event features a family campsite with one tent, dinner for up to six campers, and a pancake breakfast, along with campfire songs, hot dogs, s’mores and more. 

The Great Farmington Hills Campout is part of the “No Child Left Inside” initiative that promotes outdoor opportunities for children and families, according to a press release. 

Heier said that she and her family of four have camped quite a bit in the last several years, and the city’s campout event is a great introduction to camping for newcomers or a refresher on what to bring for camping veterans. 

She added that while camping without electronic devices is fine, nothing is wrong with pulling out your phone to go geocaching, to go on a digital treasure hunt or to get youths engaged.

“I think that is a cool way to get them introduced to camping,” she said, adding that younger campers could also go boating and kayaking if it suits them. 

Heier, who goes camping throughout the summer with her husband and her kids, ages 7 and 9, added that camping builds stronger relationships. 

“My kids always tell funny stories, and we’re like, ‘We never knew that happened.’ Just a time to reconnect,” she said.

Heier added that camping gives families the opportunity to work together to build a fire or set up a tent and problem-solve.

“(It is) a fun sense of accomplishment with your kids — they feel like they’ve done something really cool,” Heier said. “Every time we camp, no matter where we go, we experience new things … and that is where our love of camping comes (from), because it is such an adventure every time.”

Highland Recreation Area state worker Breanna Sczepanski, 18, has camped up to 20 times with family and friends, and she said there is a lot to do and see at her site in White Lake.

The 5,900 acres of natural entertainment comprise forest, marshes and lakes in the hills of the southern part of the state. 

Camping, biking, horseback riding, skiing and other opportunities abound there.

Sczepanski said that camping at the Highland Recreation Area means fishing, boating, dog-walking, grilling, going to the beach and whatever else suits your fancy.

She said that camping is seemingly a dying breed, but some campers she recently saw will keep that tradition alive.

“Probably a couple weeks ago, there was a dad and his two sons … (who were) thrilled to go camping, and he was telling me that on their last day of school, they wanted him to go pick them up and come straight here,” she said. “It is just nice knowing that people really enjoy it a lot. It is not very common, people camping nowadays.”

She said that when she has kids, she will make special moments for them by taking them camping.

“I feel like you can create so many memories with camping, because then it can get carried on, like when you have kids,” Sczepanski said. “I know from my experience when I went camping with my parents — I want to do that when I am older.”

Camping at a glance:

• Highland Recreation Area and Silver Lake State Park — Visit
• Oakland County Parks — Visit
• The Great Campout — Visit or or call (248) 473-1800.
• Recreation Passport — Visit or call (517) 284-7275.
• State and national parks and campgrounds — Visit