How Camping Taught Me to Value My Surroundings

I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I never received that invite to my first camping trip.  

I remember it well…

After being dropped off by my mom—with a knapsack of clothes—my aunt and uncle packed up me and my rambunctious cousins into their trademark red van. We headed north to Hickory Run State Park for Memorial Day weekend.

During the drive, I remember staring out the windows. Never before had I ridden on highways that were framed with such emerald green mountains and impressive rock formations. My uncle played Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997) on audio-book while we munched on crunchy snacks.

Daydreaming, I envisioned myself as an explorer preparing to embark on a new adventure—perhaps as a witch creeping towards the Forbidden Forest!

Once we arrived at the park, we checked in at the ranger’s office. Then we set up our campsite (a nice spot tucked in between tall trees), started a fire, and lastly were off to explore and find new friends. Back then, I was a brave extrovert who would walk right up to other campsites and ask other kids to play. This technique seemed to work 9 times out of 10, so we were often exploring as an impressive group.

I quickly adapted to camp culture. I took in all the smells, the food, the stories—all of it!

We hiked many trails–some rocky, some grassy, others muddy and swampy. I said hello to other campers, hikers, park rangers, and passersby. We played card games in the pop-up camper when it rained. We tipped our boats to swim in the lake when it was warm. I earned plenty of scars on my trip from adventuring and over-scratched bug bites.

I both saw and heard various types of animals and insects, many of which, I had never experienced before. I even saw a bear and her cubs climb over a small rocky waterfall right above an older man who was reading! So deep in his book, he didn’t realize there were bears, and (lucky for him) they passed by peacefully. But later that day, the same family of bears tore up an absent campsite. Who knew bears could open coolers as easily as humans!

I experienced so many new things during this trip. 

It was wonderful.

But that weekend flew by—and before I knew it, we were already packing up shop.

The last thing my uncle asked us to do before we left the campground was to pick up any trash in our site (even if it wasn’t ours). He taught us that litter isn’t only an aesthetic problem but can also cause serious issues with animals and their ecosystems—this including our own ecosystem. This simple lesson carried through to many aspects of my life: Respect the places where you stay. And, in a camping context, respect the land around you.

***

Since that first trip, camping has become such an important part of my life. The experiences I have, and the memories I create while camping, are part of my identity.

As an adult, I now like to camp with my fiancé, puppy, and friends. In fact, my fiancé had never been camping until he met me, so I enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) sharing this experience with him. Lucky for me, he loves camping, so we go relatively often during the warmer seasons. 

Unfortunately, I learned in my adulthood that many state parks in our country are compromised, in that they are comprised of stolen lands from indigenous people. I believe that the lands taken from indigenous peoples should be given back to the specific tribes for them to decide how the land will be treated.

This is an action, amongst many, I would like to see our political leadership carry out–one that not only involves respecting the land but also giving the land back to the people who loved and respected it in the first place (before being deceived or manipulated by colonizers).

I believe colonizers taking lands from those who valued them set the political tone for how leaders like Trump would view land solely as a source of profit.  

***

To be blunt, Trump is a terrible person. His lack of action and support regarding the people who are being killed, injured, displaced, etc. due to natural disasters (many of which no longer feel so natural) have made it more apparent with each day that we need a collective push for our representation (and laws) to start taking what is happening to our environment seriously. 

In less than a year, Trump has made several moves and decisions that will have lasting, devastating effects on the environment and planet.

His approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline received media attention, especially after the cruel and unjust treatment of the peaceful Native Americans who were protesting it. He also approved the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. Both pipelines have since spilled causing serious damage to the environment.

After proposing to slash their budget by nearly 11% by 2018, Trump ignorantly argued that the National Park Service would be able to make up for its losses by privatizing the parks. These budget cuts will undeniably have devastating effects on the park service and appear to be a clear attack on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (as their budget will be cut by more than 31%). We must continue to pay attention to Trump’s business agendas and the effect these agendas will have on the earth’s environment. 

In response to the proposed budget cuts, the Badlands National Park rightfully earned their name by going rogue after Trump threatened to ban their Twitter account for sharing scientific facts–many of which were climate change related. If you haven’t read these tweets yet they are truly amazing and may help to heal your relationship with Twitter. It also should be noted that Trump tried to ban a government organization from sharing scientific facts. The Badlands reminded Trump that our country is still a Democratic one. 

Trump’s decision to remove our country from the Paris Climate Agreement was another major blow. This political move reaffirms that Trump does not value the planet nor the impending problems we NEED to face alongside other nations. 

His repeal of Obama’s decision involving building infrastructures created to anticipate rising sea levels and climate change is another injustice our country will be fighting to fix.

These are just a few examples of Trump’s attacks on the environment. For any FernGully (1992) fans out there, Trump is basically the human form of Hexxus (an evil personified blob of toxic waste voiced by Tim Curry). We are going to be cleaning up after this horrible man for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, we do not have magical fairies who can heal trees, so this will all be on us. These, among many other reasons, show that we can never allow a leader like this into power ever again. Trump will cost us everything if we don’t push back now.

***

I’ve gone on many camping trips since Trump became president. So much of my well-being is tied to the woods. The outdoors are where I go to heal and learn. They are where I go to relax and listen. I can’t imagine my life without this wonderful outlet. 

As much as camping has become part of my being, so too has my political identity that wants to help protect our planet from people like Trump. We need to take what is happening to our planet seriously (and urgently) by voting for people who believe in science, by standing up to all injustices (including environmental ones such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and the crisis in Flint), and by fighting for a better world that will keep everyone (not just the wealthy few) healthy and strong. We ALL need to be water and earth protectors.

Remember, the next local election is coming up in early November. Be present. Be aware. Be heard. Local elections are important. We need to keep voting. Keep pushing! 

***

If you ever want to visit state parks in PA, the DCNR is a user-friendly website where you can find plenty of information about booking a campsite or cabin. Campsites are very affordable when compared to hotels, and you can choose how rustic or modern you would like your experience to be. Many campsites even offer electric, have hot showers, and toilets with running water–while others only provide outhouses.  All this information can be found on the corresponding park’s websites via DCNR main page.

Here is a list of PA state parks where I visited/camped and highly recommend checking out: Ricketts Glen, Tobyhannah, Locust Lake, Black Moshannon, Hickory Run, Cherry Springs, and World’s End. Each of these parks ranges anywhere from 1-5 hour drives from Kutztown, PA with the closest park being Locust Lake (only 1 hour away).

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About Sharayah Bower 12 Articles
Sharayah Bower is a Kutztown University alumni with a Master's degree in English. She has focused closely on African American and Indigenous feminine texts and plans to pursue a PhD program where she can further her studying, knowledge, and awareness about these cultures and their contemporary issues (especially those regarding gender and rape culture). In the near future, she intends to teach English and Composition by focusing closely on narrative writing as an attempt to more effectively educate others about--and counter--rape culture. She also enjoys tutoring others with their writing because it has only helped to improve her own.