Back to Nature

As sure as the outdoors, that's what camp has traditionally been about. But as times have changed, so have campers' interests. The camp professionals we spoke with -- from Oregon, Texas, California and the Midwest -- all noted a trend back to outdoor enthusiasm.

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And it's not just the "extreme" sports getting the campers' attention these days. Back-to-basics wilderness tripping, backpacking and skills have made a comeback.

"Interestingly enough, we put a lot of effort into outdoor adventure and education. We went back to basics, and the kids lapped it up. We had shied away from that, but by really going back to Native American and low-tech things like starting a fire or building a shelter, we were able to engage the kids," says Andrew Townsend, camps director for Kennolyn Camps, Soquel, Calif. "Kids really haven't changed that much; it's just the world they live in has changed. When you take away computers and Nintendos and you put fire-making kits and hand-built shelters in their place they just love it. We're a little nervous about the technology aspect, but when you prove to them they can have a great time, the sense of accomplishment is just the same as when you and I made a fire with flint."

Townsend says we're raising an indoor generation, and the results show as obesity rates among children climb. It's a trend that has schools and parks and recreation departments scrambling to stem the tide.

Some parks and recreation professionals are exploring the combination of technology and outdoor recreation, such as providing Wi-Fi capability in their parks or interactive kiosks on their trails.

For camps, the technology-wilderness marriage could manifest itself in GPS and mapping systems on a wilderness hike. Map your hike and when you get back, download the information to a computer and show everyone where you went, the elevation you climbed and how fast you made it.

The trick will be to combine the best of what camp offers with the best the Internet and the latest software has to offer.

Bryan BuchkoComment