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Originally published Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Free camping at Mount Rainier for city kids could be "use it or lose it" idea

A free parks program to take city kids and their parents camping at Mount Rainier this summer needs more applicants.

Seattle Times staff reporter

How to apply for camp

"CONNECTING YOUTH & FAMILIES TO OUR PARKS" will take Seattle-area families who have little to no camping experience to Mount Rainier National Park for two nights this summer. Meals, transportation and camping gear provided free. Families with children ages 6 to 15 are eligible. For more information or to apply, contact Brad Carlquist at 206-220-4229.

Three days of camping at Mount Rainier, with a park ranger leading the tour. Meals, transportation and camping equipment provided, too. All free.

For four weeks, park rangers have made this pitch to Seattle-area families who have little or no experience camping and to low-income families.

You would think, in this economy, when more family summer vacations will amount to staycations, a stampede would ensue to apply; a waiting list, even.

But remarkably, rangers say, few have registered.

So few that some free July and August camping trips to Mount Rainier National Park might be canceled unless more families apply by April 22.

The new program, sponsored by Mount Rainier National Park, the National Park Service and Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, is designed to introduce Seattle-area elementary- to middle-school-age children to hiking and camping, encouraging them to embrace the great outdoors as much as they do their iPods and "Guitar Hero" games.

So why not encourage parents to take their kids to the parks by hosting family camping trips to a Northwest icon, rangers thought.

"We are not just driving through (Mount Rainier). We are walking, hiking, cooking, looking at the stars. How to set up your tents. How to build a fire. How to enjoy nature," said ranger Brad Carlquist, organizer for the program, "Connecting Youth & Families to Our Parks."

To make sure families of limited means don't miss out, organizers have been recruiting at community centers in South Park and other low-income and diverse neighborhoods. But interest, they say, has been low.

The program is open to all families who have little to no camping experience, regardless of income. No criteria has been set for what qualifies as "little camping experience" since not enough families have applied to set a benchmark, organizers say.

Under the program, parents are required to attend an orientation at Camp Long in West Seattle on April 24 at 7 p.m. Accepted family applicants also are required to attend a few family day trips, including one to Camp Long (with optional free overnight stay at a cabin), all building up to the three days and two nights at Mount Rainier.

Families will stay at Cougar Rock Campground, about 3,200 feet elevation. Tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear and stoves will be provided. Participants will hike through wildflower meadows and old-growth forest. Rangers will also drive families up to Paradise on the south side of Mount Rainier.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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