Have you ever invited a few friends to go camping with you? Camping is fun but camping with other friends is like…more fun. How about inviting 130 friends to go camping with you? Yep, I have done that.
In August 2019 we held our 8th Annual Family Campout at Smithville Lake. And while I did not take attendance, I think we had nearly 130 people there.
I started organizing and planning this annual camping trip years ago…well 8 years ago. I invited a bunch of friends who had kids to go camping. My thought was, as cool as I think I am as a parent my daughter would have a much better time camping if she had friends. So I over invited hoping for one yes. Instead, I had multiple yeses. The daughter had a great time but so did everyone else. So we have kept doing it.
And having fun while we do it.
Planning and hosting a giant camping trip really isn’t much different than hosting a party. You need a mix of structure with unstructured, a wide range of personalities, food, and a venue. I am honestly humbled and honored that so many choose to come camping with us.
Activities for this years campout were diverse. We have found that some activities need structure and others just need a place to grow. Organized events are important but allowing time for campers to synthesize is also very important. I have learned over the years that there are two types of campers: the watchers and the doers. Our success is making room for both types.
This year we had several structured activities:
- A return of boat races. Any former cub scouts who use to do raingutter regatta. Same concept. Pro tip here; skip the cheap boats from Dollar Tree.
- Sip and Paint. Amazon had mini canvases and I asked volunteers to bring acrylic paints. We set a painting station up at a picnic table and campers could come/go all day. For the life of me, I can’t believe I know so many creative talented people who can really paint well!
- A giant chalk bag fight. I happened to find some chalk bags at Dollar Tree. I thought the kids would love it. I couldn’t predict the adults were going to love it just as much (maybe more) than the kids. Either way, everyone was chalked.
- A washer tournament. Two years ago we introduced a washers tournament. It has been a lot of fun. And I remain thankful to the duo who organizes the tournament, deals with the rules, and the over competitive players. (Just kidding, we have no over competitive friends!) I love that my role is to advance the bracket and announce the next games. Easy stuff. I can handle the easy stuff.
- Our annual glow party: black lights, UV body paint and a play list. Is there a better way to spend a Saturday night? We do not think so!
In addition to the structured activities, at their leisure campers could: swim, boat, bike, hike, or fish. There was plenty of organized activity as well as spontaneous activities (I loved the breakout musicians!) and even some down time. The weather was perfect. Well, except for that rain storm on go home day. We could have done without that.
Oh well, ya can’t have everything.
While this started out as a personal invitation from me to camp, we are well beyond that. Our camping trip has grown by word of mouth. From one camper to the next, this camping trip gets recommended to someone new every year. Our current camper population is made up of “OG’s (those who have been around for all 8 years) to newbies (first year campers) and everything in between. We have tent campers, campers who rent RV’s, and day campers who just swing by for the day and go home at night. The most important attribute the campers have is they all are coming to enjoy the outdoors and the companionship of others.
Feeding hungry campers is always the area that I struggle to get right. We have streamlined the menu as much as possible: walking tacos for lunch, hot dogs and s’mores for dinner, and pancakes, biscuits and gravy for breakfast. But the quantity of each items is honestly a stab at a moving target! I have given up the dream of no leftovers. Instead, I open any leftovers to those who linger on the last day. I mean can you go wrong with two days of walking taco’s?
As our group grew, communication became even more important. Last year we had a giant paint ball fight and I found myself waiting with a group of anxious children on other kids who were at the park or out swimming. I searched my brain for some way to communicate to everyone at all times about events as they were happening. In the end I chose to use two communication tools: one is the website Sign Up Genius and an app called TEAM APP.
I use the sign up genius for all the community meals. I list out all needed ingredients and how much is needed and campers can sign up to bring the items. The most asked question around food sign up has always been how much do I bring? My easiest answer to that question is “most of us have an idea of what it would cost us to provide groceries for our family for three camping meals so we strive to contribute that number.”
The TEAM APP is an app my daughters cheer team was using. It suddenly dawned on me during cheer season that this type of communication app would work perfectly for us. In this modern world we can count on someone or several someones to have their phone with them. So I set up a team on TEAM APP and communicated to everyone who registered for the campout to download the app and join our team. This was so much faster than a group text. The administrator can send quick important messages out to everyone all at once.
This year I asked several friends to text me the answer to one simple question: “What is your favorite thing about the family campout?” The responses melted my heart. (thanks guys!) Let me share some of the nice things:
- “We were nervous, lots of new people, meals, events…but man it was the best. Come as you are and be ready to make new friendships and just share in good, wholesome [fun].”
- “We love all of the family activities, specifically the glow party! It’s a safe environment for the kids to explore. Feels like a great way to kick off school season!”
- “My initial reaction [to being invited camping] was “heck no”! But as I thought about it and processed my feelings, I realized that camping was never going to be something that I introduced to my family because it was never introduced to me as a child. I wanted better for my kids. Tagging along while someone else (Pam) planned everything out for me was a super safe, and not too overwhelming way for me to be a better mom for my kids.”
- “We love that the loop is made up of our group and for the most part, not outsiders. We don’t know everyone but someone in our group does and it makes me feel a little more at ease with my kid running around having fun.”
- “We love the family activities…having a group makes meals and activities more fun due to competition, shared meals, and playmates for the kids so the parents can enjoy sitting on occasion.”
- “I absolutely love the camaraderie of the family camp out! Lots to do and fun meeting new people! The community meals are great because you don’t have to cook an entire meal yourself.”
- “I love that we are big enough to have the entire loop, my child enjoys playing with all the other kids, I really enjoy the group meals because it takes stress off of me to meal plan.”
- “The thing I enjoy most about the campout is how excited Pam gets when she talks about it and starts planning.”
From the very first campout I have enjoyed organizing and planning this weekend for everyone. My heart swells thinking this weekend has become important to others.