YOUNG AT HEART: Camping with grandchildren requires amenities

Mike Taylor’s daughter, Aubreii Stuart, and his granddaughter, Rosie, fishing during a family camping trip.

There was a time, not so many years ago, when camping — to me — meant trekking on Vibram-soled hiking boots through wide-open spaces, sometimes for hundreds of miles, all while carrying everything I needed to survive in an aluminum-framed backpack.

My nights were spent in a “bug tent,” big enough (barely) for one person. My meals were cooked over an alcohol gas burner or, more frequently, a campfire. I did this both summer and winter, rain, snow and shine.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Then I got a little older and the kids came along. Aubreii and Jordan shared my love of camping, but you can’t ask a 7-year-old to hike eight hours through rugged terrain. You can’t expect a kid to live on Lipton Cup-a-soup and turkey jerky for days at a time.

Camping areas like Belding’s Double R Ranch offer a variety of outdoor fun for the entire family, including horseback riding along the Flat River.

Camping with kids, which I did a lot of 25 years ago, requires a more civilized approach.

My “bug tent” was replaced with a big, family-style job that was bigger than some apartments I’ve lived in. Instead of seeking out untrammeled wilderness, I set up camp at state and private campgrounds, close to convenience stores and at least one ice cream shop.

It wasn’t exactly the rugged camp style to which I had once been accustomed, but it was great fun and it got the kids away from the Nintendo once in a while.

Then they grew up and I was again free to go back to the Grizzly Adams camping of my youth. I was surprised to discover, however, that I no longer wanted to. Somewhere along the way, I’d grown accustomed to the amenities of “civilized” camping. I no longer felt obliged to push myself to the limits of my physical endurance (which, it turned out, were far more limited than they had been 20 years prior).

Then came the grandkids. Rosie and Edison. Unlike their mother — my daughter — they did not grow up camping. But they took to it like fish to water.

The first time I took them camping, I heard not one complaint about the lack of video games. The trick, when camping with grandkids, is to pick a place that has plenty for them to do.

Unlike us geezers, kids aren’t content to sit and stare at the campfire for hours at a time; checkers hold their attention for only so long; and let’s be honest, you can only go on so many “nature hikes” before the thrill grows thin.

That’s why I like to take Rosie and Edison to places like Double R Ranch in Belding. Yeah, it’s a far cry from the rugged camping of my youth — some purists would contend it’s barely camping at all — but who cares? It’s fun and the kids love it.

According to Double R Ranch owner Steve Reeves (and yes, he has heard all the Superman jokes, so keep ‘em to yourself) the ranch offers pretty much every amenity a camper with small children in tow could ask for.

There’s horseback riding, a heated swimming pool, canoeing, golf, tubing, fishing … the list goes on. Located right on the Flat River, the ranch offers a little something for everyone.

Mike Taylor’s daughter, Aubreii Stuart, and his granddaughter, Rosie, fishing during a family camping trip.

And of course, most camps — both state, county and private — usually offer activities like arts and crafts, “movie night” and other fun stuff just for kids.

There may come a day when I again get serious about backpacking, when I dig out the hiking boots and my weather-beaten backpack, when I venture out into the wilderness unaccompanied and unafraid.

Then again, even without the grandkids in tow, that heated pool’s pretty nice.

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