Texas Outdoor Family Program in Bloom for Spring

AUSTIN — It’s that time of the year again—the weather is warming, the flowers are blooming and the Texas Outdoor Family is gearing up for a new season. Spending time outdoors has never been easier, thanks to this family camping program teaching families how to set up a tent, cook outdoors, build a campfire and play outside. The program offers low-cost weekends to help families from all backgrounds “unplug” and unwind, reconnecting with nature and one another.

“We couldn’t be prouder of the diversity the program attracts,” says Chris Holmes, director of interpretive services for state parks. “This is truly a program for all Texans.”

During the overnight workshops, families not only learn the basic skills of pitching a tent and cooking outdoors, but also focus on how to enjoy the parks through activities like kayaking, fishing and geocaching—an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS technology. Participants also are empowered to protect their state parks through good stewardship and “Leave No Trace” principles.

Workshops, which are offered roughly 36 weekends a year, have touched the lives of more than 4,000 families. Participation has nearly tripled since 2009, and the rate isn’t projected to slow anytime soon.

“This program continues to amaze me in a variety of ways,” Holmes says. “The feedback we receive is so positive. Families get to reconnect with each other, nature and Texas state parks.”

In the fall of 2014, the TOF program completely upgraded its equipment. Now campers will be using new REI tents and cots during their weekend trips. The program is also gradually switching its entire fleet of stoves to propane to make camping easier than ever.

New to the TOF program as a host park is Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso. Gear has been stationed at the park to allow for more camping workshops in the future. Several other state parks, including Brazos Bend, Galveston Island and Stephen F. Austin, have local support groups trained and ready, with gear stationed on-site as well.

The cost of workshops starts at $65 per family (up to six people) and includes camping fees, instruction from rangers, equipment and all camping gear except food and bedding. Families with no experience can show up with a few recommended household items, and the rest of the weekend will be coordinated by program staff. To make a reservation, call (512) 389-8903 or email tofsp@tpwd.texas.gov.

Additionally, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has implemented a Master Outdoor Leadership Training course, a weekend session to learn about TOF curriculum and best practices for leading outdoor adventures in parks. This program has been offered in Houston, but will be expanding to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Austin this summer and fall.

About Texas Outdoor Family

Texas Outdoor Family is a proactive program aimed at encouraging children and their decision-makers (parents or guardians) to get outdoors and enjoy state parks. The Texas Outdoor Program began in 2006 as an outreach and education effort offered by TPWD to address “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a term coined by author Richard Louv to describe the growing disconnect between families and nature. The Texas Outdoor Family program has helped more than 2,5000 families reconnect to state parks since its inception and has been replicated by 17 other states, including Oregon, Colorado and New York.