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Family Forum: Camping in the Great Outdoors

Right here on Long Island.

There’s no better way to get close to nature than to sleep and eat in the great outdoors.

Camping offers families a unique opportunity to have an adventure that can be relatively close to home—and inexpensive. After all, there are 14 camp sites in Suffolk and two in Nassau. In fact, if you’re a first-timer, experts recommend that you camp locally in case the weather turns nasty or you forget some important items.

Local campgrounds offer sites for tents and campers. Their family-friendly environments often include activities such as fishing, swimming, hiking and nature programs. Family campgrounds provide restrooms, showers and portable water. Some have stores and rent fishing poles, paddle boats, canoes and other equipment. Many local sites have a place to swim, like a pool, or they’re located near waterways. Most are near towns for shopping and restaurants for those nights you’d rather not rough it at mealtime. Look for a site that offers all the amenities yourfamily wants.

Campgrounds on Long Island cost between $9 and $33 a night, making it an affordable getaway. In order to make reservations at a Suffolk park, you have to have a Green Key card that can be purchased by calling 631-854-4949 or visiting the website. Otherwise, it’s a first-come, first-served basis. The other campgrounds have phone numbers to call for reservations. For a complete list of local campgrounds, click here. Note that most parks allow you to have your dog on a leash.

Most campgrounds provide grills, fire rings and picnic tables. A basic cooking set can be made up of no more than a bag of charcoal, a few pots and pans and a spatula. Start with simple meals like sandwiches, hamburgers and pre-packaged meals. With each camping trip, try different recipes and add the necessary cookware. When camping with a group, it’s fun to coordinate meals.

Before investing in equipment, try to borrow tents, sleeping bags, lanterns or stoves to determine what suits your family. Take time to research what different stores and manufacturers offer. To save money, check yard sales or camping groups for used equipment. Tents and sleeping bags are rated for specific conditions. Since most families camp in warm weather, you don’t need to pay extra for gear designed for freezing and sub-freezing weather. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • tent
  • sleeping bag
  • blankets and pillows
  • ground cloth
  • camp stove (although some sites have them) and kerosene cans
  • cooking utensils
  • working flashlights and lanterns
  • first-aid kit (including aspirin, Benadryl, sun block)
  • water containers

Set the equipment up at home before you go to make sure the tent isn’t missing an important supportive pole, for instance.

For most people their favorite part about camping is the time spent around the campfire at night (complete with Smores). It’s a chance to tell stories and sing. The simplicity of this time can bring families together for a unique experience that you’ll most likely want to repeat next summer. And if it doesn't work out, at least you're a short drive from home.

Liza N. Burby is Publisher of Long Island Parent Magazine and liparentonline.com.

Phil Dalton August 04, 2011 at 12:47 AM
My family just returned from a tour of national parks (Lake Superior Seashore, Badlands, Mt Rushmore, Mt St Helens, Lassen, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon). I STRONGLY recommend a box of baby wipes and large ziplock bags. The list above recommends kerosene, but propane is easier to travel with and doesn't leak fluid. Coleman propane - though not recyclable - can be found darn near anywhere. Coleman also sells a tank-top stove - a sturdy burner that screws onto the top of the tank; we couldn't have survived without it. I also brought a Sodastream bottle that I brewed green tea in each morning. Also, in the camping section of Target, you can find small firestarters with matchtips on them. You strike them like a match, and then they burn big and hot. Finally, go to a camping/outdoors store and buy an air mattress. Not a large cumbersome blow-up job. They sell rollable mattresses that are small and thin. They blow up in about 4 puffs and make a world of difference.
Jason Molinet August 04, 2011 at 12:49 AM
@Phil. All great tips. Thanks.

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