Chicago Park District Offers New Summer Camp Program for Teens

This summer, the Chicago Park District is offering a camping program for teenagers.

For one week, participants learn some of the essential skills needed to camp outdoors. At the end of the week, they put their newfound knowledge to the test by camping overnight at the park.

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One skill they’ll learn: building a fire.

“It looked really easy when the camp leader would do it, but right now when we’re trying it, it’s not that easy,” said Jonathan Hernandez, one of 14 participants in the Urban Campers Program. “One thing I hope to learn is how to build a tent because I’ve never been camping before.”

He isn’t the only one.

Nadia Campbell came to the program as another new camper. “I was intimated by camping because of how cold it gets, and I was also worried about setting the tent up wrong,” she said.

Program coordinator Liz Holley says the new program gives city kids a chance to explore what it takes to camp in the great outdoors. “Urban Campers and Under Illinois Sky, we give kids the opportunity to do adventure rec, nature exploration and environmental education in their own parks.” 

This is the first year the Park District is offering a program like this for older kids, one where they can learn to build a fire, pitch a tent and work as a team — and enjoy sleeping under the stars. 

“We don’t learn this stuff in school, and I think it’s something other kids will like to learn,” said high school junior Cielo Gonzalez. Camping has helped her navigate the pandemic. “It’s very life-changing because you have to rely on yourself a lot more. You get to disconnect and it’s challenging, and I think people can open their eyes to new experiences,” Gonzalez said.

That’s exactly what program coordinators are hoping to see.

“I want them to embrace how they connect with nature and what they think is fun in the outdoors and I want them to feel comfortable about going out and exploring, being safe and curious,” Holley said. 

Despite COVID-19 putting a stop to dozens of summer programs across the city, Holley says now more than ever people are exploring the outdoors, which made it important to figure out the logistics of bringing these park programs to the public.

“We wanted to be as safe and careful as possible. Also knowing we have an advantage being outdoors and having lots of breathing space,” she said.

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