Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) today announced a new pilot program designed to introduce camping and outdoor activities to population groups that are largely unfamiliar with the state park system. Called the Park Explorer Series, the project will offer weekend camping trips in selected state park yurts and cabins this summer.

The program, co-sponsored with the Office of Outdoor Recreation, aims to remove barriers for communities considered underrepresented in outdoor recreation. Organizations are invited to apply to coordinate one of eight small-group camping trips at parks throughout the state. OPRD will waive fees for two-night stays in five yurts or cabins at each participating park.    

“Parks are for everyone, and this small gesture eliminates a very real barrier — cost — from the equation,” said OPRD’s director Lisa Sumption. “We hope this is just a start for participants, and one camping trip will inspire many more outdoor adventures.”

Representatives of interested organizations must submit an application by 5 p.m. March 6 detailing the organization’s eligibility, including its ability to administer the program and its commitment to serving communities that are underrepresented in the outdoors. Program details and the application are posted on the OPRD website, oregonstateparks.org.

“Surveys show some segments of Oregon’s population do not camp or visit state parks, or at least not in numbers that parallel their population,” said Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, director of the Oregon Office of Outdoor Recreation, citing findings from the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, posted on oregon.gov/oprd. “In partnering with community-based organizations, we hope together we can make the outdoors more accessible to these populations.”

A panel representing OPRD staff and external partners will evaluate applications and select recipients. Successful organizations will be notified in early April. Organizations will be responsible for selecting program participants and supporting them in preparation for the camping trip. Preference will be given to organizations that demonstrate a plan to continue to support participants’ engagement with the outdoors after the camping trip ends.

“So much research shows that spending time outside corresponds with better mental and physical health,” Sumption said. “We need to do what we can as an agency to ensure all Oregonians have equitable access to state parks and the associated health benefits.”

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