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Vermont, NY offer free gear, sites to first-time campers

July 28, 2018
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In this Thursday, July 26, 2018 photo, Ryan Rand, left, Shey Bresette, center, and Jess Bresette pose for a photo in front of their campsite at Stillwater State Park in Groton, Vt. Vermont is offering first-time campers free equipment and campsites this summer at various state parks, including Stillwater, to encourage more people to participate. The state parks will loan winning campers a tent, cook stove, lantern and some sleeping pads. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — To try to get more people into camping this summer, Vermont is offering first-time campers free equipment and campsites at various state parks, as New York is also doing.

More than 600 people have signed up to be picked for 30 individual slots for happy camper weekends offered in July and August at various Vermont state parks.

“We are always looking for ways to encourage more people to spend time outdoors with their friends and families because it’s fun, relaxing and rejuvenating, and it’s good for people’s emotional and physical health,” said state parks director Craig Whipple. “All the positive benefits of outdoor recreation can be multiplied when people spend the night outside in the woods.”

The parks loan the winning campers a tent, cook stove, lantern and some sleeping pads. Staff then help the campers set up their campsite and give them a tour of the park on Friday evening.

Dylan Hart, of Burlington, camped this month with her partner and 2-year-old daughter at Grand Isle State Park and said the group had “an amazing time.”

Although she didn’t like camping after she and parents went on a camping trip through Europe when she was a kid, she thought it was important for her daughter to experience it.

“I loved it. We had such a great time,” she said Thursday. “One of the biggest things was just seeing her, my daughter, so happy and kind of just, like, free,” she said of her daughter, who met other kids at the playground and played with them for hours.

“I’ve never seen a 2-year-old so dirty in my life before, but she was having such a great time being messy and just being a kid,” she said. They also got a parking pass that allowed them to visit nearby state parks on Lake Champlain.

Now Hart and her partner are trying to get their own camping gear and planning their next trip.

In the last decade, visits to Vermont state parks are up 40 percent, said state parks Commissioner Michael Snyder.

New York state is also offering its residents first-time camper weekends with free gear and campsites throughout the summer.

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