Connecting Underserved Families with Nature

Lessons from the Great American Campouts in Seattle

Connecting underserved families with nature through camping

The National Wildlife Federation Seattle Office offered two Great American Campout events this summer to engage 300 campers from historically underrepresented and underserved Seattle families with nature and outdoor recreation experience. The Federation has worked with the Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Nature Consortium program of Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association, and other local partners for the past eight years to connect underserved Seattle families with outdoor education and exploration opportunities.

In the two Great American Campout events, we connected with families who had never been camping and who may not have been comfortable recreating in the outdoors. Our Campouts are free overnight events that offer hiking and moving in nature, rock climbing and ropes course activities, environmental learning opportunities, forest walks, night hikes, and campfire programs.

 The primary goal of the Great American Campouts at Camp Long is to provide underserved families with a nature immersion program where they could feel safe, explore nature and share their culture with others. 

Great horned owl. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Over the past eight years of the program, families from a variety of cultures have participated in the event: Latino, Somalian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, African American and Caucasian ethnicities and nationalities were represented and supported with translation services.

The families shared multicultural storytelling, drumming, and dancing around the campfire, learned about composting and recycling, made nature crafts, and enjoyed night hikes to search for owls and stars with a forest walk. Families also learned about the health of Seattle’s urban forests and helped remove invasive plants. Local nonprofits also hosted activity stations and shared resources for participating in outdoor activities.

Our success has been measured by the number of families that engage in additional outdoor program offerings with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department. Together we encourage continued nature exploration by sending families home with materials and resources about city, state, and national parks, as well as with information of ongoing opportunities for families in Seattle with other partners.

Tips for first time camping:

  • Go with a group. Camping as a large group was a great way to try camping for the first time – it shared costs and responsibilities, and offered opportunities to ask questions and build community.
  • Use public equipment. Camping seems like you must have a lot of expensive equipment, but public cabins are a great option to save money and resources. Using a public cabin allowed us to bring sheets and blankets from home, with no need for tents and sleeping bags. And they can often fit multiple families in one cabin, splitting the cost.
  • Plan easy meals. Most cabins have a cook fire ring or BBQ grill, but to save time and money plan a menu that is easy. Bring a pot from home and use sticks to cook hotdogs or marshmallows over the fire, and transport sandwiches and pre-cut snack foods in a cooler. Simple foods like hot cocoa and oatmeal are special when you eat them outside.
  • Find an accessible location. The Great American Campouts at Camp Long use a local city park that allows easy access via public transportation.
  • Learn from the outdoors. Check out native plant and animal books from the library and see how many your family can find, or try other activities from the Great American Campout website.
  • Register your campout on the Great American Campout website, and show that your family and friends are taking the pledge to try camping!

The National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Campout is a summer-long celebration of camping as a way to connect with nature and wildlife. 

Seattle skyline, view of Mount Rainier.

Public Cabin Rentals and Park Information for Washington State:

Seattle Parks and Recreation, Camp Long

Washington State Parks

National Parks in Washington