Out of the street and into the forest? Workshop helps families enjoy the great outdoors


A hand holds a cup of tea with milk over a campfire in the forest.
Any nature lover will tell you that a cup of tea “definitely tastes better in the forest”. (Jeff Piercey/Submitted by Gord Follett)

If there is one positive thing about the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that it has introduced many new people to the comfort and safety of the great outdoors.

Families who have never experienced anything like an old-fashioned cookout are buying cauldrons, hiking boots, snowshoes, fishing rods and the like. They are gathering their own berries and mushrooms, learning to set rabbit traps and Googling outdoor tips and ideas.

People with outdoor experience now spend more time in the forest than ever before.

Although fishing and hunting have been my primary outdoor pursuits over the years, there are countless ways to enjoy all that nature has to offer.

Yet some residents of our cities and more populated areas are hesitant to leave the paved roads and head into the woods or one of Newfoundland and Labrador's many scenic and tranquil campgrounds.

The first step, so to speak, is to get your feet wet.

A man in camouflage clothing and a bright orange vest sits on a large rock in front of a campfire. Food is being cooked in a frying pan on the fire.
Gord Follett Sr. didn't experience the outdoors until he was in his 60s, around the time he was inducted into the Newfoundland Labrador Sports Hall of Fame. He often said he wished he had experienced the outdoors sooner. (Gord Follett)

Join the province's Become an Outdoor Family program, which has only been running for a few years – an offshoot of the hugely popular Become an Outdoor Woman workshop, which has been running for an impressive 27 years. Both programs are run by the province's Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture.

“We listened to the BOW program participants and knew there was a need for a program that included families,” said Salmonier Nature Park Education Director Debbie Howell.

“When COVID limited our ability to run BOW camp programs with shared accommodations, we saw an opportunity to expand the program to a family program and keep families in their 'bubble.'”

The program and the feedback were “amazing,” she said.

A little boy wearing a baseball cap and a blue shirt is pulling the string of a bow.
The basics of archery are one of the skills participants learn in the Become an Outdoor Family workshop. (Gord Follett)

“We always have a long waiting list,” she said. “The comments from participants are always very positive and the families are eager to learn. … It is so rewarding to share outdoor knowledge and skills with families and see the children learn in nature.”

So far, Howell said, the family programs are only taking place in Butterpot Provincial Park, but organizers would like to expand the program to other parks in the province and are currently exploring the possibilities.

This year's family program will be offered at the Butterpot on June 22 and 23. The workshop is designed for families with little outdoor experience and will teach essential skills that will prepare them for a life of outdoor fun.

The three-day, two-night program teaches the fundamentals of camping, including outdoor cooking, campfire safety, basic survival, avoiding wildlife conflict, wildlife and plant identification, and archery basics.

Registration for the 2024 family event began Saturday. The fee is $15 per family group. Limited camping spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Interested groups can request a registration packet via email or call 709-229-7888.

As a city person who “freaked out” relatively early in life and has spent a significant portion of his last 45 years enjoying life outdoors, I can tell you that I have loved every moment. There is no psychologist or physical therapist that can do more for your mind and body than time in the woods.

No other member of my immediate family is the outdoorsy type, although my athletic father, who did not join me in outdoor activities until he was in his 60s, greatly enjoyed his few moose, caribou and rabbit hunts with me. Before Dad passed away in 2021 at age 83, he often told Mom that these trips were the best times of his life.

If this outdoor family workshop had existed when I was growing up, I would certainly have tried to persuade Mom, Dad and my siblings to join in, and I am sure they would have left their many traces in the forest.

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