River Forest camp out offers environmental lessons
Cole Daly of Oak Park takes a seat on her sleeping bag as her grandfather Richard White of Forest Park sets up their tent for the Zero Waste Camp Out at Priory Park. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 3, 2012 1:35AM
RIVER FOREST — The scene of camp grounds after a weekend trip can involve trash – discarded plastic and glass bottles, cans, food wrappers.
The River Forest Park District and the River Forest Parks Foundation sought to create a similar camping experience for residents, but with one caveat: there would be no waste.
A “zero waste” camp out on Sept. 29 at Priory Park provided 60 adults and youngsters an opportunity to pitch a tent close to home and learn what it means to be eco-friendly.
Leaving the park in the same condition, if not better, was the goal, River Forest Parks Foundation board member Ross Roloff said.
“We can all only do so much,” he said, but “tiny things” matter.
Park District Recreation Services Manager Karen Scherrer agreed.
“You can still go camping and have a good time without having to throw things into a landfill,” she said.
Scherrer said campers were encouraged to pack minimally to have a good time without the fuss “stuff.”
“It’s really just a time when family can be together,” she said.
Families were encouraged to bring refillable water bottles and to eat dinner before attending, so as not to create additional waste. Whole Foods donated trail-mix ingredients in bulk so campers could concoct healthy snacks.
The park district planned kid-friendly activities between Friday night and early Saturday morning that celebrated green camping.
A presentation about nocturnal animals by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County included a showing of mounted creatures such as a coyote, night owl and opossum.
River Forest Public Library staff read books around a campfire, including one story about Curious George’s own camping experience.
From the vegetable garden-flatbed of Seven Generations Ahead’s Green Sugar Press Farm Truck, staff educated children about organic foods and how to make meals out of fresh ingredients.
Roloff said one of foundation’s goals is to find ways for the park district to do educational programming for green events. Encouraging “green block parties,” for example, is one of its methods for supporting less waste.
Park district staff is also discovering greener ways of doing things, Scherrer said. For instance, when the park district hosts birthday parties for children, it uses plastic ware that is washed and reused.
“We’re even educating ourselves still about what we can do to make a difference,” Scherrer said.
Roloff hopes campers took away the realization that they could have a good time outdoors without leaving a negative impact on the environment.
He said the experience also proved enjoying nature doesn’t have to involve packing luggage and driving hours away.
“I think a lot of times you think of camping as this big commitment,” he said. “You can have a great time doing it literally and figuratively in your own backyard.”
Roloff camped with his wife and two children, who are in the fourth and second grades.
“There’s a certain amount freedom that a child doesn’t always get when they can run around in the dark,” he said. “And they learned a few things along the way.”