The Great American Campout!

So what will you be doing this June 22?  Will you be camping?  If not, you should be, and you should bring some people out camping with you.  Now why would I say that?  There must be some reason why I would single out June 22 as a day to go camping….

Oh yes!  June 22 is the date for The Great American Campout.  Wait, you haven’t heard about The Great American Campout?  You’re not alone, I wasn’t aware of this either, but then a podcasting friend of mine (shout out to Happy Camper Radio on this, go listen to them) told me about it last year, and I knew that I HAD to tell all of my readers about this special date.  But, since I wasn’t aware of this, I needed to get more details.

Enter Josh at the National Wildlife Federation.  I reached out to the NWF to get more information, and a friendly chap named Josh got back to me and agreed to an interview with me.  Fair reporting upfront:  We did this interview in 2 parts.  The first part was at the end of 2018, and then a follow up interview in May of 2019.  So here are our interviews, pared down and cleaned up for your benefit and to make things readable.

The Great American Campout!

Josh, what is your role at the National Wildlife Federation?

Josh: Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation is the United States’ largest private, nonprofit conservation education and advocacy organization, with over six million members and supporters, and 51 state and territorial affiliated organizations. We are primarily focused on wildlife conservation and connecting people to nature. We focus on meeting people where they are with all of our programs and policy work. My role is connecting families to nature, and I focus on doing that through programmatic strategies and policy strategies. I run the Great American Campout as well as a series of programs called The Green Hour which is focused on doing an hour of outdoor green time, similar to the (NFL’s) Play 60 idea. We look at connecting with after school networks and organizations that already have interest in getting kids outside into nature. I also serve on a coalition that’s been working on the Every Kid Outdoors Act, recently signed into law, as well as working to try to normalize the idea of outdoor learning environments in early childcare, doing that on the national and state level.

How did the Great American Campout get started?

Josh: It started in 2004 and has taken an interesting evolution. It started as the Great American Backyard Campout. Camping, research shows, is one of the better ways to connect people to nature. Spending time outdoors, with people you trust, is a key way to establish that connection to nature. And the backyard was an easy way to do that. Over the years it has grown to be broader and more inclusive. Not everyone has a backyard, for example. We used to do 1 or 2 key, cornerstone events, but now we focus on trying to raise awareness in about camping and camping’s role in connection to nature. We’ve moved to form strategic partnerships focused on broadening the idea of camping, trying to break down barriers between backpackers, tent campers and RV campers. No matter how you camp, it’s all good!

How did the Great American Campout get started

Is there a specific date or day of the week for the Great American Campout each year?

Josh: We partner with a variety of different organizations to celebrate Great Outdoors Month, which is in June. Some partners include The Recreational Boating and Fishing foundation, they have National Fishing and Marinas Week, and The American Hiking Society which hosts National Trail Days. We have traditionally been the 4th weekend in June as a sort of anchor for Great Outdoors Month.

Do you need to register or pay anything to participate in the Great American Campout?

Josh: Participating in the Great American Campout is free. Our website has a wide range of resources on how to camp, where to camp, tips for camping, etc. We do ask people to register for the Great American Campout, as it allows us to track where people are camping, and it allows us to communicate with people about opportunities and prizes. Last year we offered a week’s free stay at any Jellystone Campground in the country, with the grand prize a free RV. So there’s value in registering for the Great American Campout.

Do people wanting to participate in the Great American Campout need to be at specific parks or campgrounds?

Josh: That’s the great things about the Great American Campout: You can camp anytime, anywhere, anyplace. We are cohosting a few local events with Virginia State Parks, and we’ll be hosting an event in Atlanta, Georgia. Lots of organizations participate in the Great American Campout and they host public and private campouts highlighted through our site. The focus is all about understanding your local opportunities this year. In addition, we’ll do a major piece with Ranger Rick Magazine on camping and how to go camping with your family as well.

Do people wanting to participate in the Great American Campout need to be at specific parks or campgrounds

How have registrations grown over the past 5-10 years?

Josh: Its grown incrementally, we started with about 10,000 registered campers in 2004, and in 2017 we had about 400,000 registered campers, and last year we had more than 1 million campers participating. I have two goals for the Great American Campout. One is to encourage new people to camp. The other is to reach campers who already love the outdoors and to foster their conservation ethic and connection to nature.

The Tenting Life: That’s an important point with the conservation ethic. How do you enlist their help to preserve what is there for future generations?

Josh: We use our brand ambassador Ranger Rick (National Wildlife Federation has been publishing that magazine for 50 years). We plan on using his magazine, products and broad array of educational tools that use his likeness to further that mission. Conservation starts locally, so we also focus on creating products, tools, and games that connect kids to their local and regional environment to build that capacity and interest in them. While they’re out having fun in the outdoors, making sure to then educate them about other issues such as how their decisions affect wildlife and even connecting them to local events and service projects.

Is there anything else that you would like readers to know about the National Wildlife Federation or the Great American Campout?

Josh: I would love to know what things that tent campers want to learn from the National Wildlife Federation? How can the National Wildlife Federation provide useful resources and support you? And then while you are out camping, talk with your friends and family, or people that don’t normally go camping and tell them how awesome camping is. Tell them how great the sunset was, the animals that you saw, and why camping is such a big part of moving conservation forward in the U.S.

Wrap Up

The Great American Campout is the perfect way to celebrate the outdoors and to encourage others to give camping a try.  While we here at The Tenting Life focus on tent camping, there is no wrong way to do it, from pop-up campers and small trailers to large fifth wheels and motorhomes.  Like Josh said:  “You can camp anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”, and I’m sure he would agree that also includes “anyhow.

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