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August 30, 2013

NASH: Taking the family camping

— Labor Day weekend is upon us so the calendar says that summer is unofficially over. The kids have been back in school for a few weeks so that means it must be time to get back into our regular routines. There are still a few weeks until fall actually begins and who knows when the weather will change. I still think there will be plenty of time to enjoy weekends so why not plan a camping trip with your family?

Last weekend I decided to take my family on a camping trip. After a busy summer schedule along with weather that didn’t want to cooperate, I thought I wasn’t going to go camping with my kids. I had gotten a new tent for Christmas last year and I was starting to think that I wasn’t going to ever get to use it.

Around here there are a few options if you want to get out of town for a day and sleep somewhere under the stars. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources maintains several properties across the state where you can pick your level of camping. With a pregnant wife and three kids from 11 to 16 years of age, I decided to pick some place close with amenities that are easily accessible. We headed to O’Bannon Woods, part of the Harrison Crawford Forest to start our camping adventure.

I have always enjoyed camping myself and I have tried to get my kids interested in it, but today’s youth cannot be without some kind of electronic device to entertain. I caved and allowed them to take their hand held games which made them harder to coerce into helping out with the chores that are associated with camping.

My children did pitch in when it came to pitching the tent and we were able to erect it without too many problems. With any good camping trip there are always things that are left at home that you smack your head when you realize you forgot them. We had forgotten to pack the rubber mallet that we use to drive the tent spikes into the dry ground.  

The last time I went camping if I hadn’t had my tent staked well it would have blown away, but this trip there was no noticeable wind so I was comfortable risking about half of the stakes securely into the ground. We also decided that the rain fly wouldn’t need to be installed based on the weather forecast.

For several years now when camping in the state of Indiana there have been restrictions in place on the firewood that you burn, due to pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer which  has threatened trees and triggered precautions by the DNR. Firewood must be purchased from the campground or by a certified retailer with a Federal USDA compliance stamp.  

You can bring in firewood from your home as long as it is debarked with a recommended half inch of sapwood removed. We purchased our wood from the campgrounds and built our fire to prepare our dinner of roasted hot dogs. For dessert  we roasted marshmallows and prepared s’mores.

When we pulled into our campsite we noticed a couple of trailers with signs out front that said they were researchers from Purdue University. They also had a sign that pointed to a website helpthehellbender.org. My 16-year-old pointed out that the “hellbender” was a salamander. I have no idea how he knew this.

As our evening progressed one of the researchers passed by our campsite and I asked him to take a few minutes and tell our family about his research. He explained that he was catching and placing tracking devices inside the salamanders. This is when he blew my mind by explaining that the Eastern Hellbender Salamander which makes his home in Southern Indiana’s Blue River grows to about two feet long. I used to inner tube down a portion of Blue River and I don’t know what I would have done if I would have come across a two-foot salamander.

He was trained by Purdue’s Veterinary School to do surgery on the creatures in order to implant the tracking devices. By tracking the salamander and understanding their migratory patterns they could better understand why the species is on the decline.

As the sun went down and the purchased firewood was all burnt up, it was time for us to say goodnight. The five of us went to sleep together in the tent and quickly fell asleep from the day’s activities.

Keeping the rain fly off turned out to be a mistake, not because of any weather conditions but the moon was nearly full that night. With only a screen between us and the night sky our tent was fairly illuminated for much of the night. Before we knew what had happened the sun was rising and it was time to wake up.

We woke up early, broke camp and packed up the car for the return trip home. Like all good campers we left the campsite as good as we left. Also like good campers we stopped and had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel where we utilized a gift certificate I received as a Christmas present.   

We weren’t very presentable after spending the night in the “wilderness” but believed we could pull it off because we were out of town and we wouldn’t know anybody. Of course halfway through our breakfast someone we knew showed up with their family on their way to Holiday World.

Camping is a great way for the family to spend time together. You are never closer to your kids as you are when you’re on the floor of a tent in a sleeping bag under the stars. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has numerous sites across the state that can fit your needs, many within a short car ride. While the weather is still nice, why not take your family camping?

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

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