While many Torontonians escape the city during the summer by battling cottage country-bound traffic to get to the many parks and lakes within a few hours of Toronto, last month I had an amazing nature experience a little closer to home — camping in the Rouge.
On July 28-29, my colleagues at Across U-hub and I joined 30 youth on a camping excursion in Rouge Park as part of the Camp Suzuki program.
Rouge Park is an urban park located on the eastern edge of Toronto, straddling Scarborough, Markham, and Pickering. It is destined to become Canada's first urban national park and is home to the only camping spot in Toronto—the Glen Rouge Campground.
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Glen Rouge is understandably busy throughout the summer; densely populated by tents, campers and trailers. It is close to Rouge Beach, at the shoreline of Lake Ontario, and is only a short walk from a number of trails that allow you to block out the nearby city and immerse yourself in the sanctuary of nature.
The Across U-hub campers arrived at Rouge Park early Saturday afternoon. They brought along tents, sleeping bags, camping chairs and stacks of coolers filled with two days worth of food for our 30 campers.
The camping excursion was intended for youth new to camping. The campers learned how to pitch tents, build campfires and about the wonders of nature in the Rouge. Because many of them come from cities and countries where nature is found far from the urban areas, this experience was particularly memorable.
Claudio Yin, who spends nearly all of his waking hours in front of the computer, said, "I realized that I don't really have to be in front of my computer to have fun. I know it sounds trivial, but for me, it isn't until I get out into nature that I realize I can really enjoy myself outdoors."
The short commute to the campsite made the trip possible, particularly for first time campers who were not comfortable travelling too far on their first trip. Alice Yung said, "This is my first time camping. It's my first time setting up tents and sleeping outdoors. I enjoyed it because I can hear the crickets and different sounds of nature. It felt very comfortable and relaxing."
Across U-hub Program Director, Teresa Chan, also encouraged campers to turn off their cell phones so they can truly connect with nature. She said, "We challenged the campers to turn off their phones because we wanted them to disconnect from their screens and spend more time connected with nature. It's a good way for them avoid all distractions and truly take in all the goods that nature has to offer."
One of the campers, Krisy Yu, was excited about the challenge. She said, "I didn't use my phone during the camping trip. I feel like we're so attached to our cell phones all the time out in the city that it is really important to take time to be away and disconnect. The only thing I missed about it is that there are moments when I want to take some photos of nature, and I didn't have my phone!"
By the end of the trip, the youths found their own ways to connect with nature. Whether it was simply spending a time away from their phones or learning what critters live in the Rouge, they all experienced nature in a personal way. It really shows that even though we live in the city, getting out into nature really isn't that difficult. And for those of us living near the Rouge, it was a great reminder that a fun camping getaway is literally in our own backyard.