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Year-round fun in your backyard and beyond

Local commentary

Posted: June 27, 2008 2:16 a.m.
Updated: August 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.
‘Tis the perfect summer for camping. The Great American Backyard Campout, sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, is coming up Saturday night.

Last year more than 42,000 people participated in this low-key introduction to camping. Recipes, packing lists, nighttime wildlife guides and more are available at

Another fun event is Kid's Kamp, featuring hikes, science demonstrations, and an overnight at the Placerita Nature Center. This event is held in August. To reserve a spot, call Frank Hoffman at Placerita.

Brownies (entry-level Girl Scouts) hooked me on camping as a child even in the humid mosquito- and poison-ivy-filled woods of the Midwest.

Our family has been seeking out summers in the outdoors all our lives, but this year all signs point to a resurgence. Gas prices are high. If you want to venture outside the Santa Clarita Valley, there are beaches, mountains, and deserts all within a one- to five-hour drive.

National Parks are great, and very well maintained, but sometimes they're too crowded. That requires planning ahead, and they also don't allow pets on trails, so our family usually finds other options.

Some private campgrounds and a lot of the county parks along the central coast have pools, showers, marinas and more. The National Forest sites are usually a little less improved, but they are more private, less crowded, and very pet-friendly.

Whether you like all the amenities, you want some cush but prefer some elbow room, or you want to hit the hiking trail and not see a soul, you can find your ideal vacation nearby.

Tent supplies are affordable and fit in your car. An RV will run you a bit more. Some RVs can run a lot more!

Whatever your taste, there's a camping level that will suit you. A favorite compromise we just discovered is a pop-up tent trailer. First a "vintage" 1974 model hooked us, and for $400 it worked great.

Camping teaches you a lot. In addition to ranger talks, you can see caves, wildlife, geologic wonders, ghost towns and more.

You can hone your favorite sports. Even organizational skill is tested. What to bring? What to risk leaving behind?

Congressman McKeon and Senator Boxer recently introduced a fabulous wilderness bill. Recreational outfitters supporting the bill realize nature treks are good for business. Just check out the towns in the Eastern Sierra that thrive on fishing, hiking, skiing, biking, boating and camping customers.

Some areas are closer to home, like Piru Creek and Magic Mountain. We've got great nearby spots to camp like Devil's Punchbowl, and it would be really cool if some of the National Forest sites were opened again, coupled with appropriate user fees for maintenance and monitoring.

Speaking of maintenance, camping SHOULD teach kids and adults good neighborly behavior. My dad was the etiquette enforcer, and it made me a bit of a camping curmudgeon.

Some areas have excellent rangers who work to keep everyone's experience great. In some areas, you're on your own.

Some hints: Having a few of your favorite beverages is fine, but fellow campers may not appreciate your party blasting rap music or cowboy tunes at midnight. And no taking shortcuts through other people's campsites.

Your dog may be really nice, but I don't want him, unleashed, visiting our dogs, who are tied up. When they say "no washing food dishes in the sink" they mean it. Ick.

Interestingly, watching news clips of the Katrina survivors, I noticed a story that highlighted a group who developed a latrine situated away from their living area, and washed things using a three-pot system to conserve water.

No doubt a camper was amongst that group, and the skills helped them survive the tragedy a bit better.

The best reason to revisit camping is it brings families and friends together. Whether in an RV park at the Colorado River, or at a lake in the backwoods of Santa Barbara County, a lot of the experience is "just hanging out."

After the day's fun of catching fish, hiking to a glacier, or hitting the bike trail before taking a dip in the lake, everyone can relax.

Without electronic distractions and errands to run, mealtime becomes an event. Moms, dads, grandparents, young couples, friends, kids, dogs ... hang out together and talk. Even teenagers!

If you've never camped, get your feet wet with the NWF's Backyard Campout plan Saturday. Everybody else, dust off the tents and the coolers and map out a trip - the time has never been better to enjoy the great outdoors.

Maria Gutzeit is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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