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Aides-De-Camp

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Seminole County Parks & Rec staff help locals spend an evening under the stars at the Great American Campout

On the shores of Lake Mills in Chuluota, dozens of local families recently reconnected with nature as part of a national initiative to introduce – or reintroduce – Americans to the simple joys of camping. The Great American Campout in November was a smashing success here in Seminole County, with organizers reporting a great turnout and plenty of outdoor fun.

“The Seminole County Parks and Recreation division was able to build off the success from last year’s event with a 40-percent increase in participation from the previous year,” says Thomas Kelly, park supervisor.

Forty-eight families signed up to participate in this year’s Campout at Lake Mills Park, where tents were pitched, hammocks were hung, and plenty of campfires were lit as the autumn sun set.

“We really haven’t done any camping since we had our kids,” says Ryan Kotich, who camped in a sturdy orange-and-blue tent with his wife, Amber, and sons Jackson and Zach. “This event gave us a chance to get back out, and we’re having a great time.”

Tents surrounded the open field of Lake Mills Park, where kids enjoyed pickup games of soccer before settling in for supper. Besides the good food and fresh air, there was plenty of opportunity for youngsters to learn more about Florida’s many natural wonders.

“Jim Duby, with Seminole County’s Natural Lands department, was a big hit again this year as he brought out several native Florida reptiles for the children to learn about,” says Thomas.” The kids were able to touch or hold the animals, which gives them their own stories to tell.”

Fun continued after dark with representatives from the Seminole State College Astronomers Club and their array of high-powered telescopes. Kids (and their parents) were able to observe stars, planets, and even other galaxies as Astronomer Club members described the many wonders of the night sky.

The campfires and campfire songs continued well into the evening before it was time to cozy up in colorful sleeping bags to brave the not-so-chilly Central Florida night. A few intrepid campers were stirring before sunrise the next morning as the smell of bacon on the griddle and homemade pancakes filled the air to rouse even the heaviest sleepers out of their slumber. After that, it was time to pack up and pay homage to the park by leaving no trace of the Campout behind.

“The event is designed specifically to encourage first-time campers to come out and camp,” says Thomas. “We want folks to unplug for a night and enjoy the great outdoors, and we want to teach families the importance of protecting our natural resources. In its simplest terms, the Great American Campout is a way to connect with nature and wildlife.”

County leaders expect next year’s Campout to be an even bigger success. Keep an eye out for more information about dates, times, and registration as the summer of 2017 draws to a close.

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