published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Great American camp out


by Amy Williams
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Margaret Fenton Three generations of the Martinez family, from Tunnel Hill., Ga., camp together for a week each summer at Chester Frost Park. From left, Chris, Aaliyah and Pete Martinez throw bread to the ducks next to their campsite after lunch. People are staying close to home this summer and finding fun without a big price tag.

For the Martinez family, camping starts at a young age. The couple's two oldest daughters say they can't even remember going on their first camping trip.

This year the family from Tunnel Hill, Ga., brought the newest addition to their family, 4-week-old grandson Kenyon, for his very first overnight trip.

The family began setting up their tent early Tuesday on the shore of Chickamauga Lake in Chester Frost Park.

"We've come camping here for years," Mrs. Martinez said. "I grew up camping out here."

The National Wildlife Federation is encouraging families across the country to do just what the Martinez family is doing this summer with its Great American Backyard Campout campaign. The nationwide event takes place June 27, when people throughout the country are invited to participate in a campout close to home and enjoy the natural world in their own backyard.

The nine Martinez family members plus their dog Diva will spend their time at the park in a huge tent with three queen size air mattresses and just a few of the amenities of home, like a fan when it gets too hot. But what they don't have is a TV, a computer or video games -- and that is exactly the point.

Instead of listening to an iPod or talking on the phone, the boys, Diego, 11, and Chris, 13, will fish and swim in the lake. Dad will spend his time marinating some ribs to cook on the grill for dinner. And afterwards, the family will build a fire and cook marshmallows together.

"It's just us interacting together and having fun," Mrs. Martinez said.

And there is plenty to do at Chester Frost, from volleyball on the sand beach to playing on the playground nearby. Some families bring kayaks or ski boats, and spend their days out on the water, said lead park ranger Noel McDaniel.

"Families like it out here because it's safe, it's clean and there are a lot of different activities," he said.

For the Martinez family, the fun of planning a camping trip starts before they even get to the camp site, Mr. Martinez said.

"We all get involved," he said. "We start a week ahead of time starting to pack, and we still forget things."

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