Growing up in Detroit, the outdoors was the city block where you jumped rope and rode bikes, says Maxine Hall. Maxine moved to Minnesota 13 years ago, not for its abundant nature, but for a job.
Still, when her son, Langston, hit the ripe age of five, he started making noises about camping.
Camping? Like with tents and bug spray and water from an outdoor spigot, or worse yet, filtered from a lake? Maxine would have to mull that over, and hopefully by the time she finished mulling, Langston would forget the notion. He didn't.
"So, I was driving Langston to daycare, when I heard about the I Can Camp program on the radio," says Maxine. She looked up the program online. Then she took the next step and called.
Those were her first steps into Minnesota's great outdoors, though she didn't realize it at the time. She was still fence sitting a week later when she called for more information and discovered that the next I Can Camp session was taking place the following week at Afton State Park. Maxine said her son would be attending and—gulp!—so would she.
Then it hit her.
"My anxiety level went through the roof," says Maxine.
She was a computer geek. She liked cell phone service. She liked electricity, indoor plumbing and a stove that didn't fit in a backpack. Truthfully, if she were being real with herself, she didn't think she could handle the creepy crawlies that proliferate in the wild and all the planning that goes into camping. Where do you even begin?
But then that's why Minnesota's state park system created I Can Camp. The overnight program—two days and one night—is designed for beginners. The park service supplies the equipment—tent, inflatable mattress, stove, fishing gear. It provides a grocery list and advice on what to wear and what to pack. It even shows participants how to camp.
"At the time, I owned a minivan," says Maxine. "I had the entire minivan packed for our trip."
Not knowing what to expect, she packed more than was necessary. She brought a wagon in case she needed to transport supplies over a distance. But the park had anticipated that hurdle and located the campsite next to a parking lot.
"I was probably the camper with the least experience in our group," says Maxine. "There were a mom and daughter who'd done some camping. There was a family with a baby. But no real experienced campers. All of us were just happy to have the opportunity."
Two members of the Minnesota Conservation Corps ran the program and launched the first day with—what else?—tent raising. Langston pitched in and, with some assistance from a Conservation Corps team member, the Halls had a roof over their heads.
Two days and one night went by quickly. But in that short space, Maxine and Langston learned about ash borers from a park naturalist. They hiked, swam, fished and took photographs. They cooked alpine spaghetti on a tabletop stove. The first night before bed, they also got the skinny on night noises: owls, bats, insects.
"I was really excited to hear the noises," says Maxine. But they were drowned out by the unexpected. "All I could hear was someone snoring."
Still, the experience turned out well. So well, in fact, that in the two years since, mom and son have gone on three more trips.
Last summer, they even ventured a solo trip to Forestville Mystery Cave State Park for fishing.
The only drawback?
"No Internet service. So I couldn't access a YouTube video on trout fishing," she says.
But then she didn't need videos when a fellow camper showed up to provide a demo.