Breaking Down Barriers to Camping

By: Chia Xiong

April 28, 2021

Category: People of the Parks

David Carson participated in a new introductory camping initiative at Three Rivers last fall. He shared his experience of what it was like to go camping for the first time. 

My Three Rivers camping experience started with a Community Engagement staff member, Nicole. She contacted me inquiring if I knew anyone who would like to camp using free camping gear and supplies. I jumped at the chance even though this would be my very first time truly camping by my lonesome.  

As a man who has not had many outdoorsy experiences, I was a wee bit nervous. The great communication from Three Rivers staff via texts and emails helped me gather confidence in the upcoming camping trip. I arrived at the campground pumped and ready to be consumed by nature.  

The awesome staff I met onsite had a large plastic container on wheels with all the basic equipment needed for camping. Together, we went over all the contents from sleeping pad, tent, the cooking stove, lanterns and even roasting forks for cooking over the fire! A trip full of firsts also included using a propane camp stove to cook, and the staff member who gave my orientation provided a quick lesson. Within no time, I had my camp area set up, a fire started and tea brewing on the stove.  

David smiles as he holds up a cookie while camping.
David enjoys some cookies during his camping trip. Photo courtesy of David Carson.

My night was chilly, to say the least, but I slept well. That feeling of the outdoors was so refreshing from the usual constant city life. I realized I needed this break and was so happy to utilize this free resource.  

My experience on a scale of 1 to 10 was an 8+. It would have been much higher had I not left my tent zipper down as it was cool and past mosquito season. I unknowingly allowed a family of spiders in my tent for the night, which made me scream in horror!  

Needless to say, I went on to sign up again two weeks later, inviting a few youth and a couple friends to join in. The different campground gave me a new setting to experience and another great time camping, especially without the spiders involved. 

How The Introductory Camping Initiative Began 

David’s story is just one from the numerous individuals, groups, and families who come out to our campgrounds every year. For several years, our Community Engagement team’s connection to community members generated ideas about how we could bring camping experiences to those who have never camped before and are interested in doing so.  

Many people we talked with were concerned about costs, equipment and skills needed to camp. It was daunting for them to think of how to even get started. We gathered ideas around this new initiative as we consulted other organizations, community partners and internal staff. 

The COVID-19 pandemic also created a situation where people wanted to spend more time outdoors and were seeking new experiences. At the same time, our Community Engagement team was going through a shift from hosting large groups at the parks to instead supporting individuals and families in being able to come out on their own. We worked with others in Three Rivers to put a system in place, sent out promotions to community partners and gathered equipment for a Camping Gear Lending Library. 

We launched the initiative as a pilot program in fall 2020. It was a work in progress as we adapted our approach throughout the 6-week pilot period. For example, we added items and gear that groups frequently forgot at home (i.e., matches, tinder for fire, playing cards). The opportunity was promoted to Recreation Pass Plus participants as well as to partnering community groups and agencies who represent and work alongside communities that have been historically excluded from outdoor spaces. 

Two women and two boys set up a tent at Baker Campground.

Three kids laugh as they gather around a picnic table at a campsite.

A group of people stand around their campsite at Baker Campground.

Understanding Barriers to Camping 

Understandably, camping can mean different things to many people. Some find it a rejuvenating and refreshing experience to be surrounded by nature. Others face anxiety and stress when being without a comfortable bed or feel out of place in a new environment. For some, camping may bring images of trauma and pain possibly due to previous distressful situations, war or historical trauma. While there is an understanding of the benefits of being in nature, we must also take the time to recognize other perspectives of the outdoors.

There is a recognizable privilege in purchasing camping equipment, leaving home, and being out in nature all day and night. There is also privilege in feeling comfortable in such spaces and being without insecurities in the outdoors. Our goal was to lessen barriers in order to create opportunities to have positive experiences in the outdoors and reimagine what camping could look like. 

My Camping Experiences 

For an avid camper like myself, I see camping as a time to rest and reset. As a Hmong-American, camping has brought me closer to my own cultural roots as my parents grew up sleeping and living in nature all around. It has taught me the simplicity of nature and the healing power of resting in the outdoors. 

It was not until my adult years that camping became a common outing with family and friends. These camping experiences in my own life have made me realize how much I wanted to share similar experiences with others who might be curious about camping and new outdoor experiences. The Camping Gear Lending Library begins the process of breaking down barriers to new outdoor experiences and opening doors to new opportunities.  

Where 2021 Will Take Us 

In 2021, we are offering numerous opportunities to go camping with the Camping Gear Lending Library. This initiative will continue to focus on introductory and affordable camping for individuals and families with limited financial resources as well as intentionally targeting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) within the Twin Cities metro area.   

For more information about the Camping Gear Lending Library, please contact me at Chia.Xiong@threeriversparks.org or 612.346.4682. To learn more about Three Rivers campgrounds, visit our Camping page

About the Author

Chia Xiong wears a baseball cap and plaid shirt as she smiles at the camera.

Chia is a Community Engagement Coordinator at Three Rivers Park District. Within this role, she works to build connections, conduct outreach programming and launch initiatives to address community interests. Specifically, Chia coordinates the Camping Gear Lending Library and Pathways Internship Program. Apart from those initiatives, she plays an active role in building leadership toward a more diverse workforce, facilitating DEI trainings and conversations with staff, and advocating for systemic, sustainable change. Outside of work, Chia enjoys spending time outdoors – playing, hiking, camping, eating barbeque – with her family, friends and dog as well as playing video games and watching documentaries.

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February 17, 2021

Nicole Fernandez, cultural liaison at Three Rivers, finds joy in connecting others to the outdoors. Learn what draws Nicole to nature, and read about some of her favorite experiences connecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community members to the parks.

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