A low cell phone signal, a breath of fresh air, a dive into a cool lake on a humid summer afternoon and s’mores are ingredients for a perfect summer day. They are also the makings of a perfect camping trip, sans mosquitoes, of course.
A camping weekend in a tent under the stars or in a cabin nestled in the woods offers a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For nine Edina families, a camping tradition has been six years in the making. We chatted with a few of them about why their kids love this annual summer getaway, how the group celebrated its fifth camping anniversary and a flashback to a humorous encounter with pesky raccoons.
Edina resident Janis Hardie wasn’t much of a camper growing up. Originally from Canada, Hardie was far more accustomed to lazy cabin days and the less impressive art of “car camping.” “That was my introduction to camping,” she says. Later, Hardie and her husband Ron, an Edina native, embarked on a trip to the Boundary Waters, where she had an epiphany. Hardie describes her husband as a traditional outdoorsman. “Camping is kind of his tradition and was something we wanted to introduce to our kids someday,” she says. So after having three kids, Tommy, Addie and Steve, (now 12, 10 and 7) the Hardies remembered their trip to the Boundary Waters and called on some Edina friends with camping background to recreate the adventure. Thus, a new tradition was born.
Over the years, the group has grown to include nine Edina families—43 people in all—who enjoy an extended weekend camping trip together. The framework of the outings has remained relatively similar. Each year, a different family chooses the campsite destination, typically within a two to three-hour drive from Edina. A highlight is a Saturday activity for the entire group. Past favorites include canoeing and treasure hunting.
The next year’s location is often decided on the last night of the current trip. Popular campsites are often booked up to a year in advance. “Having a location is key,” says Hardie, who is instrumental in keeping the group organized. Over the years, the group has perfected a plan for who brings what. And yes, all 43 campers eat meals together, a tradition Hardie believes makes them a unit.
The First Four Years
The initial group, a collection of both experienced and inexperienced campers, started out simply. They rented a group campsite near Moose Lake. And although it poured on Friday, the weather didn’t deter them. “It was such a great time, we decided we had to do it again the next year,” Hardie says.
The group expanded to its current size the second year and camped in St. Croix. “Now we laugh because we have gotten so big,” Hardie says. Michelle Olson and her family began traveling with the group the second year. “Just being with the people is our favorite part,” Olson says. “We get to do things that we don’t normally do.”
Again, the campers were pounded by rain, and this time, were also approached by a few new friends. One night as the adults were sitting around the campfire, someone noticed a group of raccoons nibbling on their food supply. Although slightly unsettling at the time, the story now provides a funny anecdote. But they took the weather and furry neighbors in stride with a unanimous vote to carry on the tradition for a third year, this time at William O’Brien State Park, the group’s recommendation for first-time campers. On their fourth trip, at Whitewater State Park, they spotted a rope swing while river camping, which provided hours of entertainment. “The kids were so excited,” says Hardie. “For me, it was the icon of summer.”
But it was the group’s fifth trip that has proved to be their greatest adventure to date.
South Dakota Adventures
Around the campfire during their last night at Whitewater State Park, while brainstorming the next year’s adventure, the group decided to pick someplace special to celebrate their fifth camping trip anniversary. They went big and made the 560-mile trek to the Black Hills in South Dakota. For the first time, they skipped the tents and campsites in favor of cabins. But they were still without kitchens, and they cooked meals, roasted marshmallows and spent time around the campfire.
They visited all the tourist attractions, including Mount Rushmore. It was a trip that all, from the adults down to the youngest kiddo, will never forget. “They [the kids] savored every part of it,” says Heather Bennett. “It was so much fun for them. To this day when our 3-year-old daughter, Fiona sees a picture of Roosevelt, she’ll point and say ‘look, Mom, there’s Rosabelt.’ The trip was so educational. The kids learned so much about history.” Yet location isn’t the most important element. Group members agree it is the trip’s tradition and its memories that make it a can’t-miss summer weekend for adults and kids alike.
A Tradition in the Making
Although their locations and main activities change from year to year, several things remain the same. There are always marshmallows to be roasted, ghost stories to be told and games to be played. The adults agree that clicking off their cell phones and leaving behind structured summer activities are two of camping’s many perks. “I love the carefree timelessness. There’s no schedule, there’s no plan, there’s no ‘Be here at this time.’ I love the laughter and the joy,” Hardie says. “It’s also about being in nature and connecting with each other, because you don’t have the distractions of modern-day society.” In a world where technology often replaces the outdoors and security is tightly monitored, night games are often left behind. But a must-pack for all the kids in this camping group is black clothing. Why? To play a much anticipated game of flashlight tag. Adults get in on the fun, too. Each year the group plays some organized game, usually baseball or kickball. “We laugh because we have enough kids that we can have our own baseball team,” Hardie says. And although the children’s age range is large, this annual camping trip has created friendships among all 25 of them. “They just love being kids, being dirty and eating with their hands,” Bennett says. Such are the perks of the great outdoors.
During her own childhood, Bennett says her family and friends didn’t have any yearly traditions. Perhaps this is why she wanted to pass along this tradition to her kids. “I love that it is something [the kids] look forward to every year,” she says. Not only do the adults tell stories and share their favorite moments around the campfire, the kids are beginning to do so as well.
This summer, the story sharing and forming of new memories will continue as the group plans to return to the St. Croix area for their sixth camping adventure. Hardie says, “This is a tradition that will continue on for many years to come. Watching our kids experience it is all worth it.” This seems to be a consensus among all the families. Bennett says, “My kids wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
A Word from the Wise
We asked our friends at AAA, as well as Janis Hardie and other campers to offer some camping tips and resources for those in uncharted territory. With a little effort, you could be on the way to creating your own camping traditions.
- Research: AAA is an excellent resource for all things travel. It offers specialty maps, hiking and camping books like Woodall’s Guidebook of all U.S. campsites. Our Edina campers suggest researching sites in advance so you know what items you can and can’t bring along. And consider visiting campgrounds before embarking on a camping trip.
- Start out small: Secluded campsites can be intimidating for first-time campers. Hardie recommends beginning with a state park. They typically have built-in ideas for activities and a DNR representative on-site. “It’s almost like you’re camping, but you have resources close by,” she says.
- Be prepared: Bug spray and s’mores fixings are must-have camping staples. Hardie also says to be prepared for all types of weather. But don’t overpack. Try to bring only the things you’ll need.
- Try it on for size: The Three Rivers Park District offers camping weekends and basic skill classes, including fishing, hiking, nature education and paddling. Visit threeriversparks.org for more information.
- Be flexible.