If it’s the weekend, most likely Jeny Himel and her family, of Old Jefferson, are out camping. In the spring, they’ll drive to a camp site, taking with them their tent, air mattresses, portable stove and other creatures of comfort. But by the time the temperatures soar, the family of three will be reaching their riverside destinations by kayak; even Jeny’s eight-year-old daughter Veda paddles her own. That is when they really “rough it”—the only gear they’ll take with them is what fits in the boats.
Two years ago, these seasoned adventurers had never been camping. Then the mother and daughter were invited on a trip and were hooked. “Now we go all the time,” she says.
She does mean all the time. For eight months of the year Jeny, husband Barry, and their daughter go camping every-other weekend, through spring, summer and into late fall. She says that now through June are the most ideal months to camp around the state; however, they’ve found camping by a riverside will keep them “cool enough at night to need a sheet” in July and August. “We’ll camp anytime except for in the extreme cold,” says Jeny. “And from December to Mardi Gras, we’re just too busy.” By March, they can’t wait to get back at it.
Jeny says that she’s drawn to camping because of the family time, being outdoors, and the exercise they get. Those perks seem to be enjoyed and appreciated by campers the world over. Recently, U.K. researchers reviewed more than 60 studies as well as the results of their own online survey and found that those who camp are happier, have closer family relationships, are healthier, less stressed and are more socially connected than those who don’t camp.
Courtney Frankowski of Uptown gets to experience lots of family time while camping with her three daughters, but it doesn’t always lead to less stress. While her family will camp a night or two at Grayton Beach State Park in Florida, and she goes camping around Louisiana with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, she pitches her tent most often in Colorado; she and her daughters summer there with her in-laws while her husband Jan remains in NOLA, flying out to visit whenever he can.
“Pitching a tent by yourself is tricky,” Courtney says, laughing. “One time I’d gone to dinner with the girls, and came back to our site when it was pitch black to find that the tent was gone. Gone. It had blown down in horrendous winds.” She also misplaced her wallet that night, and drove back down the mountain to the restaurant hoping she had left it there. “But the restaurant had closed,” she says. “So we all crawled into the car and spent the night there.”
ages and stages
Eventually Courtney found her wallet, and re-pitched the tent. She shrugs off the experience as part of the camping adventure. And each year, as her children get older, that adventure gets bolder. Like Jeny’s family does in the spring, Courtney and her crew used to do only “car camping”—driving their car right up to the camp site, making loading and unloading easy. Last year, however, they started going backcountry camping—hiking to their destination, lugging their tent and equipment with them.
“Bella, my oldest (now age 11), wanted to go up to Lost Peak—a huge hike,” says Courtney. Leaving her younger children, Sophie (now seven) and Gigi (now four), at her in-laws, she, her husband, and Bella made the arduous trek up the mountain and spent the night there. They have gone on backcountry camping trips with all three daughters, but only when their destination was within a mile away. “More than that is just too much with the little ones,” she says.
Colleen Kirchem, who lives in the Musicians’ Village with her husband Thomas and their two-year-old daughter Lolette, experienced camping with a little one last summer. That’s when they took their then-one-and-a-half-year-old daughter camping at William Bankhead National Forest, located in northern Alabama. It was their first family camping trip; they chose the destination—about a six hour drive from New Orleans—because they were already going to be nearby visiting a great aunt.
“Lolette loved it,” says Colleen of the experience. The family stayed for two nights in a tent, and enjoyed easy-to-follow trails and some beautiful waterfalls. Colleen’s only complaint was about the number of ticks. “They were everywhere,” she says. “It had been so long since I’d camped, I wasn’t vigilant about checking for them.”
This year she’ll be prepared with the repellants because she will go camping again. “We’ve even bought a new tent—a four-man pop-up.”
beyond the fly-flap
While many campers pitch tents at various camp sites throughout our region—and beyond—others enjoy a more “polished” approach to camping, either taking a recreational vehicle to an RV-equipped camp site, or taking advantage of cabins available for rent at various state parks. Uptown residents Linda Baynham, husband Rob Moreau, and sons Robbie (8) and Ryan (7) will only pitch a tent about once a year, opting more often to stay in a cabin.
“They are all great and really get you out into the park for a weekend,” says Linda, a huge fan of Louisiana’s state parks.
Sometimes, the destination is the driving factor for camping, rather than the “experience” itself. Courtney explains it this way: “I’m a Ritz Carlton kinda girl with a Comfort Inn pocketbook. So, we compromise. Two nights camping in the magnificent Sylvan Lakes State Park in Eagle (Colo.), followed by a night at The Marriott Hotel in downtown Vail.” She laughs as she adds, “You should see the looks on the valet drivers’ faces when we pull up with our van stuffed with tents, sleeping bags and pillows, and the grungy family gets out.”