Meet Mother Nature

June 02, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

If you want to pitch a tent near a campfire, but your idea of roughing it is lodging at the $40-a-night motel rather than a four-star hotel, Dana Weedon has some advice for you.

"Don't put the tent too close to the fire," said Weedon, manager of Maple Tree Campground in Gapland. "I had some campers burn their tent down because they did that."

She and other private campground managers and rangers at state and national parks in the Tri-State area recently shared some tips for novice campers to make their outdoor experiences at the area's abundant campsites safer and more enjoyable.


Ranger Ralph Young, manager of Fort Frederick State Park in Big Pool, suggests talking to experts at camping supply stores to ensure the purchase of properly sized tents and temperature-appropriate sleeping bags.

Matt Clopper, store manager of Camp Coleman at Prime Outlets at Hagerstown, said tents with at least two rooms are ideal for camping families because one room can be used to store muddy boots and wet clothes, keeping the sleeping area of the tent clean and dry.

"Murphy's Law of Camping says that when you go camping, it's going to rain," said Clopper, who also recommends electric lanterns for inside tents at night, basic two-burner propane stoves for cooking and air mattresses for campers with touchy backs.

And a port-o-pot at the campsite "sure beats stepping on the rattler on the way to the bathrooms at night," Clopper said.

First-time campers should practice putting up tents and using other outdoor equipment before they go camping, said Dennis Miller, assistant manager of Cowan's Gap State Park in Fort Loudon, Pa.

"You'de be surprised at how many people run into Sears or wherever to buy their tent, throw it in the car on the way to the campground and try to put it up for the first time when they get there," Miller said. "It can be quite confusing if you've never put up a tent before. And a lot of people don't realize all the little extras you need to make things work."

Plastic tarps under tents help keep out moisture and increase tents' longevity, said Diana Gunia, office manager of the Harpers Ferry KOA campground in Jefferson County, W.Va. Wet camping gear should be unpacked to air out when campers return home to prevent the gear from molding, Gunia said.

Her husband, camp manager Michael Gunia, reminded novice campers to bring the stakes needed to secure their tents to the ground.

Weedon also advises setting up tents on level ground, digging a shallow trench around the base of the tent to prevent water from rolling off the tent and pooling around the base, and covering the tent with a sturdy tarp.

"I've had my campers get soaked," she said.

And forgetting a flashlight can lead to late-night accidents that might easily have been prevented, Weedon said.

"It gets dark out there. You can find a tree with your face if you don't have a light," she said.

Keep trash off the ground, and store food in tamper-proof containers or vehicles, Weedon added.

"I've had people wake up to find all their bread gone," she said. "I don't know if it was raccoons or cats or squirrels or what." So far this season, no bears have been spotted at the campground atop South Mountain, she said.

Weedon suggests keeping extra water at the campsite in case of fire and medical emergencies.

Cheryl Smith, manager of Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park near Williamsport, said it's always a good idea to make site reservations ahead of time. She also suggests calling ahead to find out about fishing and boating regulations so you can acquire the proper licenses in advance. Make a note to bring plenty of matches and a waterproof case for them, she said, because it's hard to light a fire or gas-powered lantern without dry matches and mantels - the sheaths that put off incandescent light in lanterns.

Put a plastic tarp under your tent, as well as over it, to further protect against dampness during wet weather. And bring extra blankets in case of sudden temperature drops. Choose insect repellents that are safe for children, specifically remedies without DEET, Smith said.

It's a good idea to note the exact address of your campground and site number in case you need to call for emergency help because the reservation might have been made under the name of someone else in your camping party so "the people at the front desk might not always know how to find you," Smith said.

Ranger Young always gives his camping address to someone at home so he can be reached in case of emergency, he said. He also urges campers to remember sunscreen, rain gear, proper footwear for the terrain and necessary medications.

"There's nothing worse than needing Pepto Bismol when you're at a campsite," Young said.

Smith said tent campers tend to forget to pack first-aid kits. "And you can't forget the s'more essentials," she said.

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