Delivering an inclusive first camping experience: the power of partnerships in parks
By: Guest blogger Jade Szymanski – Learn-to Camp Coordinator
Since 2019, Parks Canada’s Learn-to Camp program has partnered with BC Parks, the Canucks Autism Network, Mountain Equipment Company, and Power To Be to deliver a first camping experience for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. This year, 10 families from the Canucks Autism Network and Power To Be attended the Learn-to Camp overnight event at Porteau Cove Park on July 7-8.
Prior to the overnight event, a training session was delivered in collaboration with BC Parks, BC Parks Foundation, the Canucks Autism Network, the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, Parks Canada, and Power To Be to equip onboarding employees with the tools needed to create a more welcoming environment in outdoor programs.
During a Learn-to Camp overnight event, families forge meaningful connections with staff members and other families as they participate in programs that are designed to build their skills, knowledge, sense of place, and confidence.
Over the course of the weekend, families gained hands-on experience as they learnt how to set up a tent and cook on a camp stove. Concepts of stewardship and safety were taught through programs that focused on animal safety, camping gear, trip planning, and Leave No Trace principles.
Participants were able to foster their connection to the park through an interpretive beach walk and a marine mammal program. As they strolled along the shoreline, the interpreter unveiled the hidden treasures of the beach, from intricate seashells to unique coastal flora.
For participants who wanted a quick break from the scheduled programming, a sensory-friendly tent provided a relaxing space equipped with books, games, and noise-cancelling headphones.
To wrap up the weekend, the evening campfire program warmed hearts and created lasting memories. The group indulged in s’mores as laughter and songs filled the air. Once the glow of the campfire faded into the night, participants retreated to the warmth of their sleeping bags to reflect on the day’s adventures.
This collaborative overnight event is a wonderful example of how we can make camping more accessible by working together to remove barriers. Participants were provided with camping gear for the weekend, had their participation fees covered by the partnering organizations, and were delivered programs that were specifically designed to be more inclusive for individuals on the autism spectrum. BC Parks made campsites available free of charge through funding provided by the Licence Plate Program.
Making our parks accessible is a collective responsibility. Through efforts such as training opportunities and program delivery, partnerships demonstrate that collaboration between organizations who share similar values can help remove barriers and promote inclusion in the outdoors.
We hope that all participants feel welcome, safe, and equipped to recreate in parks. We hope everyone feels empowered to continue learning and to share new memories with friends, family, and community!