A muggy Friday evening didn’t deter Brian Ackermann and his kids, Evelyn, 9, and Austin, 6, from putting up their tent for an overnight camp out at Dana Peak Park.

“A family that sweats together, stays together,” Ackermann said, wiping his brow.

They were among about 20 families participating in the first Family Camp Out hosted by the Harker Heights Parks and Recreation Department. For $10 per person, the overnight event gave families a chance to “unplug,” cook over a campfire, hike the trails and spend quality time together. Campers received a small backpack with a T-shirt and a water bottle. They enjoyed a homemade camp fire dessert and s’mores along with story time Friday evening, and breakfast tacos Saturday.

“Getting families outside and unplugged from electronics to encourage togetherness was the goal of the event,” said Lori Briere, recreation superintendent.

The scenic view of the river and sloped hills provided the ideal setting for families to get reacquainted with nature or discover the outdoors for the first time. A small tent city quickly sprang up and it didn’t take long for everyone to find their favorite activity — some fished on the shore and others played volleyball.

“It’s a different kind of bonding outdoors because you’re doing things you didn’t think you could do, like learning how to light a campfire without a match,” Briere said. Encouraged by the turnout, Briere and her staff plan to host another family camp-out in the fall.

Asia Dennis, 15, normally spends Friday night on Instagram, but she liked being outdoors because it reminded her of camping at her grandpa’s place.

“We do a lot of outdoor activities but not camping, so we’re looking forward to a good time,” said Michael Dennis, her father, as he pounded in the last tent stake.

For people without a lot of camping experience or equipment, the parks and recreation staff had extra tents and supplies and several Eagle Scout volunteers were on site to help anyone make an overnight home.

“If you’re new to camping, we wanted to take away the fear factor, so families could focus on having fun,” said City Manager David Mitchell.

Cowboy cooking in the outdoors is second nature to Harker Heights Police Lt. Houston Johnson, who demonstrated his Dutch oven skills by making a simple, yet delicious peach cobbler.

“This is just another opportunity for citizens to develop a closer relationship with each other and with the city,” Johnson said.

Ron Simmons and his son Jackson, 4, camp out often because they love to create memories of their time together.

“We’ll take this experience with us forever, and one day he’ll do this with his children,” Simmons said.

For information on a future camp out, call 254-953-5657 or go to www.ci.harker-heights.tx.us/parks.

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