I woke up Sunday morning to the sounds of kids trying to be quiet. Clinks and clanks, coupled with “SHHHHHH” and a few thuds as firewood was loaded into the little wood stove of Manitoba Cabin. It was chilly, only about 30 F, and somebody had obviously decided to take charge and start the fire before the rest of us emerged from our sleeping bags.
It didn’t take long for a crackle of kindling and the bubbling of coffee pots to entice more people into the cabin, and soon the place was warm and cozy with parents and kids sipping warm drinks and nibbling on pancakes as they rehashed the best parts of their weekend. It was noisy, crowded, and utterly fabulous.
This was Family Fun Camp, a concept developed in cooperation among Alaska Huts, AKontheGO, and Kenai Backcountry Adventures (we’ve also had Camp Fire Alaska as a partner for past camp weekends). In all, 20 people ranging in age from four to 50 participated in the one-night campout at Manitoba Cabin and Yurts, our third session so far.
Designed to help moms, dads, grandparents or caregivers become more comfortable in Alaska’s outdoor spaces with the children they love, Family Fun Camp serves up to four families during a pre-determined weekend, in a variety of seasons. Participants sign up through Alaska Huts and receive lodging, activities, and a Saturday night dinner at this historic little homestead cabin. Everyone shares yurt space at Manitoba, gaining even more knowledge of campsite etiquette, equipment value, and the intricacies of keeping a small space warm during an Alaska fall or winter when temperatures often drop below freezing at night.
During this session of camp, kids and parents worked together to build survival shelters with no man-made materials; they learned how to cook over an open fire using a cast-iron dutch oven technique perfected by the team at Kenai Backcountry Adventures; and we all gathered around to watch “Miner Steve” give each child the chance to pan for gold with paydirt straight out of the rushing, cold creek below the cabin.
Why do people keep coming back? One family has attended three times and counts it as their “best family weekend away, ever.” Others say it’s the camaraderie of kids naturally forming their own groups and playing in the woods like they did as kids. Several single parents have found Family Fun Camp to be a way to connect with other adults while their kids enjoy companionship.
Whatever the reason, it is clear the concept works. Camping with kids, especially in Alaska, feels “too big” for many parents, so delegating some of the organizational responsibility to leaders makes planning a bit easier for parents new to outdoor overnights. Once comfortable, it is our hope they’ll take the next step to go on their own.
Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation. She lives in Anchorage.