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TPWD News Release — Feb. 18, 2010

Estero Llano Grande State Park to Host March Outdoor Family Workshop

WESLACO — The increasingly popular Texas Outdoor Family program comes to Estero Llano Grande State Park in the Rio Grande Valley on March 13-14 to help adults and youngsters become comfortable with camping beneath the stars and reconnecting with nature.

The overnight campout and outdoor education workshop at the World Birding Center site is one of more than two dozen Texas Parks and Wildlife Department-sponsored outdoor family workshops being held throughout the state this spring to try to eliminate barriers to families wishing to share the outdoor experience together. The two-year-old Texas Outdoor Family program has taught hundreds of adults and children from diverse backgrounds how to safely enjoy the outdoors and help conserve Texas’ natural resources.

The theme of the Estero Llano Grande workshop is connecting children to nature through wildlife observation and journaling. Outdoor education specialists will welcome campers on Saturday morning. Participants learn how to pitch a tent and how to operate such typical camping equipment as camp stoves and lanterns. During the evening, participants learn how to build a fire and cook on open flames and outdoor grills, and receive a primer on those scary night noises typically heard in a park. On Sunday morning, a park ranger will share coffee and conversation about nature, state parks and how to best enjoy the great outdoors.

The thrust of the outdoor family program is to help address what has been termed "Nature Deficit Disorder" that affects many urban children, as well as adults, who have become disconnected from the natural world. The term first gained notoriety after the publishing of Richard Louv’s 2005 groundbreaking book, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." Louv cites studies that show that playing outdoors strengthens a young person’s mind and body, leading to better performance in school and interactions with others.

"We’ve noticed over the past few years a trend throughout the nation and Texas that families aren’t tent camping as much as they once did," said Chris Holmes, who heads up the Texas Outdoor Family program. "We recognize that many people in today’s increasingly urban culture don’t have the same skills or backgrounds as earlier generations of Texans."

The overnight campouts are designed for persons who have never camped before or may not have camped for many years, as well as for those who don’t have the necessary equipment or see the outdoors as being boring or dangerous. Texas state parks, with ample campsites and a law enforcement presence, prove the ideal setting for the structured campouts.

Edinburgh’s Jackie Romero, 30, and her 8-year-old-son, Noah, participated in one of the campouts last year at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission. She hadn’t camped for many years and her son had never been camping. They came away impressed with how easy it is to put up a tent and cook outdoors.

"I wasn’t very confident about how to put up a tent or cook outdoors," Romero said. "When I read about it  in the newspaper, I thought it would be fun to do and knew there would be people willing to help us and answer any questions I might have. It was no hassle, very easy-going and simple."

Though the workshop curriculum content varies slightly from park to park, campers can learn about the outdoors from park rangers and interpretive specialists, how to set up a tent, how to use a camp stove and lantern safely, and other basic outdoor skills, such as paddling and fishing. All camping equipment is being provided thanks to program sponsor Toyota. Registrants must bring their own food to cook outdoors. Families will receive a suggested camp menu and shopping list. There is a 16-family maximum per workshop. The cost is $55 per family for up to eight people.

The first-of-its-kind Texas program has gained national attention from such national organizations as Leave No Trace and the National Association of Interpretation, spurring spinoff programs in other states.

Visit the Texas Outdoor Family Web page for more information, including the complete schedule of this spring’s weekend workshops. Texas Outdoor Family is now on Facebook, where graduated families post their pictures and share their stories of their outdoor adventures.

Families can register by calling (512) 389-8903 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and speaking to a Texas Outdoor Family representative or by sending an e-mail to anytime. After registration, a confirmation packet with details will be sent.