Didn’t make it to Door County this summer? This Saturday, families will pop their tents on the ball fields of the Park District of Forest Park for the eleventh annual Forest Park Family Camp Out.

“The point is to give kids an opportunity who might not go camping this summer – or ever-to have that camping-like feeling of sleeping outdoors under the stars,” said Recreation Supervisor Rachell Entler.

Entler said traditionally between 20 and 30 families participate every year. Along with tents, campers haul out lawn chairs, sleeping bags, air mattresses and blankets. The cost is $30 per family up to six members and $7 per additional person. Children must be accompanied by adults.

The park district provides a hot dog dinner with pork and beans, to be eaten around the big bonfire created in the middle of baseball diamond No. 3 as well as the mandatory marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate for s’mores. There will be evening craft activities for kids and ghost stories around the fire. The park district also provides scones and coffee for breakfast the next morning.

“This is the second year my kids are old enough to do it,” said Entler, who has two elementary school children. “Once the kids go to bed, the adults sit outside around the campfire and it’s really fun.” Adults bring extra food to share, Entler said.

Crickets chirp over the steady hum of the Eisenhower Expressway. Sometimes stars peek through the Chicago ambient light.

Executive Director Larry Piekarz said the event is a park district favorite and brings back nostalgic memories.

“I went camping as a kid growing up and when [my wife and I] first got married that’s all we could afford.” Piekarz no longer stays overnight, but he makes sure to wake up early to serve breakfast.

The only other urban touch is to make sure campers are safe: “We have a policeman there overnight,” he said.

This is year 11, and Piekarz said that the first event was a couple of days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

“It was strange at the time, because there were no airplanes going and it was eerily quiet,” he said. “[The campout] was already planned and we went ahead with it and people took it for what it was worth.”

“It helped to get their minds off of the things that had happened and I think it worked well.” The second year campout occurred on the first anniversary of the attacks. “We had a moment of silence, but, again the event helped people get their mind off of it.”

Piekarz said the family event exposes kids and families to a change of scenery that they may not be used to.

“A lot of urban kids don’t get to camp out. They don’t know about pitching a tent and the campfire and s’mores,” said Piekarz.

Call the park district for more information: 708-366-7500.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...