Feature Article - July/August 2006
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Beyond the Campfire

Summer camp sports head mainstream

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Typically, his program starts with a session in the classroom, getting participants oriented to orienteering—learning about reading maps and compasses, making maps, and running through the lingo and the rules. Next, Rhodes takes students to a local orienteering meet well before it starts, with a special "show and tell" course marked off, so the students can see what the courses are like. With the aid of a tour guide, they can understand how land looks compared to its appearance on a map; navigate a beginning and intermediate area; count steps to learn what 100 paces looks and feels like on flat areas, up and down hills (pace counting is an advanced skill); and grasp the challenge of an advanced course.

Beyond classes, Rhodes suggests several other outlets to grow orienteering programming. Parks programs can partner with scouting groups or junior ROTC groups, both traditional practitioners of orienteering, or even outdoors stores like REI, which regularly promotes outdoor activities. Rhodes' club has partnered with the retailer for a "Play in the Woods Expo," where participants can try orienteering, with other outdoor groups like adventure racers possibly joining in as well.

Orienteering even lends itself well to themed special-event tie-ins: Siscel's club hosts an annual nighttime "Vampire O" the Saturday before Halloween, complete with red lights that signify "bites."

Of course, unlike archery, which can function in a gym, orienteering needs open space. About 40 acres, with varied terrain, probably marks the minimum for a beginner course, Siscel says, with more advanced levels requiring more space.

In the Seattle area, the sport definitely has been attracting more attention: While Cascade Orienteering's membership has been holding steady at around 200 people, Siscel reports more people attending meets and more play in local newspapers.

O provides a wide range of comfort levels as well, Siscel says, from people who work a course at a leisurely pace to competitive orienteers who charge through at a run, trying to keep their mental skills sharp as their physical exertion increases—the big trick of the sport.

Although orienteering is no walk in the woods, park and rec professionals may find it easy to get a program up and running given the passion that proponents share for their sport.

And that passion, matched by a desire to spread the word, runs through many programs that first ignite thrills in intrepid campers across the country, be it orienteering, archery or disc golf. Recreation managers looking to add some diversity to their offerings and add a spark of off-the-beaten-track programming with plenty of potential for growth need look no further than these three sports. In fact, it's a sure bulls-eye—or hole-in-one.

FYI Online
  • USA Archery, the official Olympic archery organization in the United States, gives a variety of info on archery as a competitive sport, www.usarchery.org.

  • The National Alliance for the Development of Archery offers info on how to find instructors and get a program up and running, www.teacharchery.org.

  • This Web site run by the Texas Archery Association gives the lowdown on Junior Olympic Archery Development programs, which with park and rec groups can partner to start formal youth archery clubs and competitions, www.joad.org.

  • The Disc Golf Association Web site takes you on a great romp through the history of discs and disc golf, the tale of the Frisbee and its inventor, the late "Steady" Ed Hedrick, along with a wealth of practical information on equipment and courses, www.discgolfassoc.com.

  • The U.S. Orienteering Federation's Web site, particularly its education sections, provides an amazingly comprehensive look at the sport, which is abbreviated as "O" in the official lingo, www.us.orienteering.org.