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We are a growing NETWORK of local organizations using training and outdoor gear libraries to help connect kids to the outdoors across America. 



The Outdoors Empowered Network Blog is a great way to keep up with our work! 


Filtering by Tag: Camping

Chicago Park District is a GO!


With a forecast of 41°F, rain and wind (perfect hypothermia weather), this Californian in the Chicago mix was a little worried that the crew we had signed up for the first ChicaGo Explorers Front Country Leadership Training might not brave the elements to join us. Instead, 16 youth workers, parks and rec staff, community activists, social scientists and teachers showed up with smiles and true Midwestern grit.  Over the next two days together on Northerly Island, a hidden gem of the Chicago Park District in Lake Michigan, we shared skills, strategies, and tips to support the vision of all to connect Chicago’s youth with the outdoors.

What the Chicago Park District is beginning through the ChicaGo Explorers Program is no small thing.  As one of the nation’s largest park districts, they are making an important statement that we can go beyond basketball and yoga in our parks.  As part of the program, the Park District has launched a gear library, creatively housed in a shipping container on Northerly Island, which contains gear that will be used by these trainees to get youth outdoors.  Gear is one of the main obstacles keeping many youth from camping. This Gear Library will provide high quality apparel, sleeping bags, tents, etc, that will enable youth to camp under that Milky Way – most of them, for the first time.

Outdoors Empowered Network is thrilled to have supported the Chicago Park District in launching this new program!  

Big thanks to Therm-A-Rest and local REI Stores for supporting the effort!

Toni tells us: Why we Camp in Chicagoland!



Written by Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Board of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. 

Mrs. Preckwinckle, we couldn't agree with you more!  Thank you for your leadership!  The campsites are now OPEN!


This summer, as we head into the final stretch of our centennial celebration, we’re extremely proud to reintroduce camping to Cook County residents and visitors for the first time in more than half a century.

The first site to open, Camp Shabbona Woods in South Holland, will welcome campers beginning Memorial Day Weekend, Friday May 22, 2015. Additional sites in Willow Springs, Northbrook, Oak Forest and Palatine will open throughout the summer, offering tent campsites, RV campsites, small and large cabins for families, groups and couples of all ages and interests.

This achievement has been a long time in the making. Conversations early in my first term led to the development and release of an extensive Camping Master Plan in January 2013. Since then, we’ve completely reimagined these campground locations, adding cabins, tent pads, shelters and fire rings, while updating bunkhouses and dining halls. We’ve brought on experts in site management and reservations. And we’ve developed programs to help our guests learn camping skills and engage with the surrounding landscape. The Forest Preserves has invested approximately $30 million in the campgrounds to date.

Why such an investment? Simply put, camping has a unique ability to connect us to nature and one another.  When we camp, we step outside everyday routines. We come together while preparing and sharing meals. And, of course, we share the wonders of the natural world, from watching a wood duck take off across the water to learning the constellations of the night sky.

And while camping can certainly require expensive gear and hard-won skills, it needn’t be that way. Camping can be for everyone. With a range of lodging, training and gear options, we aim to make camping easy, affordable and enriching for both seasoned outdoors enthusiasts and first-time campers.

I hope you’ll learn about all our new offerings in this month’s Forest Way and visit to learn more about Forest Preserves of Cook County Camping. Camping is the kind of experience that can change a life. I believe it has the power to create generations of Cook County residents more strongly connected to their forest preserves than ever before.


Taken from a previously posted BLOG by the Forest Preserve of Cook County.  Toni Preckwinkle is the President of the Board of the Forest Preserve, one of Outdoors Empowered Network's most important partners in the midwest.  We are supporting them with consulting assistance as they incorporate a gear library and training program (called the Camping Leadership Immersion Course or CLIC program) in one of their FIVE new campgrounds.


Sharing Gear, Breaking Bread


My friend Juan Martinez @jdlovesLA says to me "Hey Kyle, let's figure out a time to break some bread together". I like it!  

Eating a meal together is so fundamental to who we are that it brings us together, as humans, under almost any circumstances.  Say, camping for instance.  Many of the youth that get outdoors overnight through our Program Affiliates are first time campers.  And a recent trip supported by our Seattle Affiliate, Washington Trails Association (WTA), proved no exception.

But there was something extra special going on.  Using the newly minted kitchen kits - put together with the generous support of GSI-  A group of 20 youth from Neighborhood House's High Point Center in West Seattle took a trip to Lake Sammamish State Park. They borrowed their equipment, including cook stoves and the kitchen kits from the WTA gear library.  Many of the youth in this group are part of recently immigrated Somali families were observing Ramadan, and camping for the first time. As Andrew Pringle, the WTA Program Director put it "cooking during the day on next week's camping trip will help to mark an important transition."  

Break bread! 

Thanks  GSI Outdoors!  The tools we need and share, to cook the meals outdoors, that make the smiles happen. 

Thanks GSI Outdoors! The tools we need and share, to cook the meals outdoors, that make the smiles happen.