As the rain poured down on the 100 campers and their 25 tents at the 12th Annual Camp Out at the Park District Sunday morning, little Elizabeth Short sat under the shelter of the park’s concession stand umbrella eating pancakes with her mom and friends. Her clothes were soaking wet and the temperature was on the cool side.
When asked what she thought of the camp out she exclaimed, “Awesome!”
Elizabeth, who couldn’t stop giggling during the interview, and her grade school buddy Lindsey Heggins are veteran campers, having done it for the first time last year. They excitedly detailed the highlights of this year’s experience.
“I liked building the tent,” said Lindsey. “Elizabeth and I made a little girl cave out of it with things that girls would like.”
Elizabeth said she enjoyed eating the popcorn the Park District provided while seeing the movie, The Great and Powerful Oz, which was projected onto a 22-foot portable screen right there on the ball fields next to the tents.
Elizabeth said that they enjoyed playing Ghosts in the Graveyard with some of the other kids but admitted that it was “scary at times.” Lindsey said she was it a few times, but “not too many.”
Lindsey said that when the two girls finally retired to their girl cave for the night, they didn’t go to sleep right away but read their books for awhile.
Lindsey explained that the marshmallows they roasted over an open fire didn’t get her fingers sticky because the way you make a s’more is to put the marshmallow and chocolate between two graham crackers.
Joel Zavala, a park employee who also had worked all night, has a kindergarten aged daughter who slept in a tent, and, like Lindsey and Elizabeth, was not bothered at all by the inclement weather. While the rain poured down, she amused herself with a little princess flashlight her dad had given her, and during the breaks in the rain she tooled around the park on a scooter.
Stephanie Bailey, Elizabeth’s mom and an Oak Park resident, came to the camp out last year for the first time and had great time. “It was really fun,” she said. “I was surprised that my three-year-old slept so well.”
She was impressed by how well the Park District ran the event. “It was a little chilly this year, and the rain didn’t start until this morning. Other than that, it was perfect. It’s a really nice, well supported event.”
Rachell Entler, the Park’s Recreation Supervisor, was helping Denny Crotty cook the pancakes and sausage under the partial shelter of a big tree after being on duty all night. She said, while flipping flapjacks and looking very tired after not getting a lot of sleep, “I enjoy seeing kids, some of whom never get to sleep in a tent outside, running around fully convinced that there are ghosts in the graveyard. You see flashlights in some of the tents and hear screams, so you know someone is telling ghost stories. The older kids like to freak out the younger ones.”
This year Forest Park Public Library Youth Services Dept. Manager Susan Kunkle told ghost stories to the kids in the dark right before the movie was shown.
Roy Sansone, the current Board President of the Park District, has attended every camp out since the event’s inception. “It’s my favorite thing that we do here at the park,” he said. He remembered that it rained during the first camp out twelve years ago. “I and my two youngest children who were eight and nine at the time stayed the whole night. It poured rain that night,” he recalled. “What I didn’t know was that the water can come underneath the tent. I woke up in the morning with the bottom of the tent, my sleeping bag and my pillow soaking wet.”
“That wasn’t such a great experience,” he said with a laugh. “But we survived and came back the next year. The weather was beautiful the second time we did it.”
One of the things he loved about the camp outs was sitting around the fire which would be built on the dirt of one of the softball infields. “The adults would gather around the fire after the kids were asleep, pull up the lawn chairs we brought along, have a few cocktails, laugh and tell stories.”
Entler said that the $30 registration fee pays for “everything” for one tent/family. This year the campers feasted on a chuck wagon dinner of the park’s “world famous” hot dogs, pork and beans, chips, drinks and German potato salad. The park provided police protection, arts and crafts, the ghost stories, the movie, s’mores and a breakfast of pancakes and sausages. Coffee and scones were courtesy of Blue Max Café.
Joe Byrnes brought the idea of a camp out to the Park Director Larry Piekarz twelve years ago. “We were talking to kids in town and some of them had never ever camped,” Piekarz recalled. “Some of my best memories were from when I went camping. We thought it would be important for them to see the other side, not always a hotel, and sometimes a lot more fun.”