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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: Chicago

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!

Chicago Area Network Member Kicks off Programs with a Bang!


“This is my first time camping… (applause from her fellow course participants) but in the last couple of years I have developed an appreciation for nature and see the benefits for kids as it pertains to their health.  So I’m pretty excited to learn more and then get more youth outdoors.”  This is how Judy introduced herself and explained her level of experience in the outdoors.  

Judy gets a hand at the right time to get us all through the mud.  This group was ready! 

In late June Judy and 12 other participants from six organizations in the Chicago metro area became “CLIC certified” youth workers, completing the first ever Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s weekend-long Camping Leadership Immersion Course training, with the support of two Outdoors Empowered Network staff instructors.  Participating organizations included Mujeres Latinas En Accion (a women and youth rights advocacy organization), Chicago Park District, The Field Museum, the Chicago Police Department and more.

The course was a whopping success highlighted by a thunderstorm that rolled in on Saturday night, giving us a show as Forest Preserve Program Specialist Brian Arnoldt taught about campfire building. 

Notice the lightening strike in the upper right hand corner of the photo. 

These pictures are taken from a video shot during the storm.  As you can imagine, we were happy for the picnic pavilion!  We were also happy the storm passed and left a calm soft rain that lulled us to sleep in our new tents.  We all slept well! 

Students learned by doing. Our hike through the mud puddles and out to the bike trail got everyone acquainted with the trails and forested lands around the campground.  After making it to a creek we stopped at a bridge and handed off bandanas, symbolically representing the leadership that one half of the group passed to the next.

Guess who passed on the bandana! 

Brian Arnoldt from the Forest Preserve introduced the training by saying, “This is the first half where you learn how to camp with your groups. The second half is where you bring your groups back out here.” 

We at Outdoors Empowered Network are proud to set forth into action the process of training  these mentors, scout leaders and gang intervention specialists. These amazing and passionate adults who know their communities and youth best, are now ready take kids out and away from the concrete, the screens, the sirens, and into the fireflies and crickets of Camp Sullivan. 

The rain didn't dampen Gerald's spirits! 

A huge thanks to our corporate sponsors, Eureka!, Columbia, GSI, Thermarest and Camp Chef, who gave gear that will be used this summer and for years to come in the Camp Sullivan gear library. 

For more pictures, check out our Facebook Page.

To learn more about the Forest Preserve District of Cook County's CLIC Program, check out their website, which includes information on the training and gear library program, and resources about all FIVE new campgrounds that are opening this summer!  


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.


Summit Time- Ten Cities and Counting!


With just under two weeks to go, we wanted to share some exciting news about our first ever National Summit. We've been planning for months on hosting all of our existing Program Affiliates. And we recently confirmed registrations for our incoming 2015 affiliates from Chicago and Boise.  

But what we didn't expect was that we'll now be welcoming representatives from three more cities who registered today, bringing the total to TEN CITIES from nine different states. And this is year ONE!  

We are thrilled to be meeting the following

  • Ron Griswell (Wilderness Inquiry, Natural Leaders Network) Minneapolis, MN
  • Mike Larson (Urban Ecology Center) Milwuakee, WI
  • Brooke Burkett (Portland Gear Hub/Camp Ketcha) Portland, ME

Mike is running the gear libraries (3) for the Urban Ecology Center where they rent canoes, bikes, snowshoes, fishing rods and.... wait for it..... ICE SKATES of course!   read more

Jill and I, along with the rest of the team over here in San Francisco are so excited to connect to everyone and begin building the ties between the people that are already making this Network THRIVE. 

If you can't make it this year, or are just interested in learning more about what will go on, check out our Agenda, and be ready for the announcement about where we'll be next year, as early as January.  Lastly, make sure you stay tuned, and contribute the the summit conversation via twitter at