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Immerse Your Kids In The Forest!

Outdoors Empowered Network, the largest national network of Member Organizations through which educators and youth leaders have access to wilderness training and free outdoor gear libraries, welcomes the Forest Preserves of Cook County, located in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, as the first member program in the Midwest. Chicago joins Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boise, and Seattle in a growing number of cities with programs increasing much needed access to nature for youth.

The FPCC is the first government agency and land manager to join the OEN, and is emerging as a national leader in the creation of programs to support their use by youth, families and community-based organizations. The Camping Leadership Immersion Course, a program developed by the FPCC with support from OEN, provides a dynamic and affordable way to enrich the lives of young people through outdoor recreation and education. The goal of the CLIC program in the Chicagoland area, and that of the other OEN supported initiatives nationwide, is to provide outdoor experiences to youth who don't often access public lands and overnight camping.

"In 2015, the Forest Preserves of Cook County brought back public camping for the first time in fifty years with the opening of five new and revitalized campgrounds," said Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the FPCC.

"Despite being within the footprint of the third largest metropolis in the country, the FPCC manages more than 70,000 acres of natural land. Offering the CLIC program so close to an urban area is a valuable resource. Our partnership with OEN makes it possible for us to expose and immerse new and diverse audiences to camping, which can be a gateway to healthy and active living."

Through OEN's programs, which help provide organizations with a blueprint for success to train leaders and build gear libraries, participants in programs like CLIC are provided with access to all the gear they need to have a fun, safe, and meaningful camping experience: tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, kitchen kits, and the appropriate outerwear. Through key partnerships, the hard work of staff, and the helping hands of many volunteers, programs like these aspire to redefine the accessibility and relationship to the outdoors for the nation's youth.

In 2015 alone, OEN's programs have trained 318 youth leaders and empowered 10,000 youth participants to experience the outdoors through immersive backpacking and camping trips. Thus far the CLIC program in the Chicago area has successfully trained 43 individuals, representing 33 different organizations, ranging from schools to scout leaders. In the first season, there were 68 youth participants, the vast majority of whom were first time campers that wouldn't otherwise have access to camping gear.

"Not only did the staff walk us through best practices, but enabled us to participate in the activities we would eventually be leading with our own teens," said Judy Idrovo, CLIC participant from Mujeres Latinas en Accion-Proyecto Juventud. "This experience made camping with my youth team and teens enjoyable, adventurous, and unforgettable since I was able to rely on the knowledge I had gained through my training."

OEN's model of providing trainings to youth serving organizations, programming support and development of gear libraries across is effective, adaptive and replicable. To learn about bringing a gear library and training program to your city, contact Kyle Macdonald at 415-516-9919 or For more information about the Forest Preserves of Cook County, camping and the CLIC program, e-mail or visit


Bonus video!

Winter Camping at Camp Bullfrog Lake.


Comments welcome.


Posted on January 27, 2016

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