This year’s Great Outdoors Western Campout was a resounding success, down to the S’mores and mud…
Hosted by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, and held in cooperation with the Great Outdoors Month Partnership, 14 other families from across the West met in June at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The event will celebrated Great Outdoors Month, the Every Kid in a Park initiative and the National Park Service Centennial.
“June is Great Outdoors Month — celebrating our parks, forests, rivers, trails and all amazing outdoor places,” says Mead. “Americans spend $650 billion on outdoor recreational activities each year. I recognize, as do other governors, the benefits of outdoor recreation on our economy, physical and mental health, education, and developing and sharing our values and culture.”
One of the families was Heidi Rowley and her three children, the only family from Utah making the journey.
Rowley, a single mother, and sales operations manager at MultiLing Corp. in Provo, loves getting her kids out in nature.
“This generation of kids isn’t outside a lot. I just encourage families to go camping. It’s good to get kids away from their screens. We like to say, ‘Real life is out the window, not on a screen,’” Rowley says. “When we’re outside, it’s like all our problems go away. My kids love nature, climbing, running, and pushing the limits.”
Rowley earned a spot at the Great Outdoors Western Campout by writing an essay detailing what her family loves about camping and why her family is unique. And unique it is — Rowley’s three children, Elijah, 11, Ryland, 9, and Azia, 7, were all adopted from foster care solely by Rowley in 2010. At the time, Rowley lived in Arizona and had a great job, owned her own home, and knew she wanted to care for foster children. Initially, she never dreamed she’d adopt, but life sometimes just happens differently than planned.
She moved her new family to Utah in 2011. With the anxiety and unique issues that follow children who have been through the foster care system, Rowley found that camping brought peace and clarity to them in an important way.
On their trip, she also saw an example of one of her favorite parts of camping.
“When you go camping, there are no walls, except the walls of your tent. After the first day, you get to know your fellow campers, and you end up with this little community — borrowing Band-Aids, sharing wood, making friends. And that was true at the campout. There were 14 families, all from different states and different parts of life, and within a day, we were a community,” Rowley says.
And one of her and her children’s favorite memories didn’t come from the zip line they rode, or the white-water rafting. Though those activities were fun, the more lasting memories were made just within their campground — using colored-light headlamps gifted to the campers.
“Honestly the best part of the whole day was watching those kids — who didn’t know each other before, and who came from very different backgrounds — being creative together, playing together till 11 at night,” Rowley adds. “They came up with more games using the different colors than I can explain. It’s amazing to see what kids can do when you put them together outside with just a bunch of headlamps.”
The Rowleys love getting outside, and at least two to four times every summer, they can be found tent camping in their favorite spots within the American Fork, Spanish Fork or Provo canyons. They’ve been to all the national parks within Utah, but mostly stick closer to home so they can head to the mountains, but still come down for the kids’ sports games, and then head back to camp.
“There’s a lot to do in our local parks and lands that don’t cost anything, I encourage all families, especially those with fourth graders, to take advantage of the pass and get camping,” Rowley said.
The Every Kid in a Park pass is free to all fourth-grade-aged children, and provides them free access to to national parks, national forests and national wildlife refuges. To find out more about the pass, visit www.everykidinapark.gov, or www.nationalparks.org.