I didn't immediately recognize Rosa Maduro as a grandmother of seven. I did spot the Salsa in her step. She was walking to her campsite. Her feet mashed the gravel path to the rhythm of congas playing from a faded gray sedan.
Rosa moved to Columbia, SC in 2002. Twenty-three years in the Caribbean’s largest housing project, Llorens Torres, was enough. This gritty 140-building complex in San Juan had been all gangs, drugs, and guns since the late 80’s.
She lost two teenage brothers there. Hector and Carlos were killed within four months of one another. One of them asked the wrong question, the other befriended the wrong person, Rosa says.
People who slept outside where she came from weren’t camping. It wasn’t their choice to sleep on the ground.
I met Rosa and her family at the 10th anniversary of the Palmetto Campout. The two-day event, hosted by Sesquicentennial State Park, transforms the campground to a classroom for new campers.
A diverse group of more than a hundred were in attendance. A small tornado of kids who just met weaved through the trees in the center of the campground. Adults on their way to the fire ring with hot dogs for roasting stutter stepped to dodge the whirling tempest of dust and giggles.
Rangers from all over the state came to teach camping skills in Columbia for the weekend, ecstatic to kindle fires in the hearts and minds of participants. And, they did.
On the syllabus: Pitching a Tent, Fire Building 101, Camp Cooking, Canoeing, Camp Games, Selfies With a Snake, and more.
(Read more from Lowcountry Outsider | CLICK HERE)
I sat in on Fire Building 101. Nearly forty people gathered into a semi circle around the ranger and watched. He peeled off bark, broke small pieces of sticks, and crushed pine needles into kindling. Everyone leaned in as the spark turned to flame.
Stacey Jensen, an interpretive guide and fourteen-year veteran of the park, is one of the founders of the event. She and Paul McCormack, Assistant State Park Director, adapted the idea for it from The Great American Backyard Campout, which was hosted by the National Wildlife Federation.
“These are mostly families who’ve never camped, never spent any time in the outdoors. By the next morning, the children want to have their birthday parties in the park and want ‘their ranger’ to host the party,” Jensen told me.
Like most grandma’s do, as we sat and talked, Rosa insisted that I eat. She pulled two roasted drumsticks and a thigh from the fire and sandwiched them between two paper plates for me.
“What made you decide to come here,” I asked.
“I have six of my seven grand children here, my daughter, my son and daughter-in-law. There’s not much more I can leave them these days but memories,” she said. “When they’re adults, they can pass those memories to their families and always remember that grandma wanted them to learn and explore new things together.”
In May, Jones Gap State Park will host another Palmetto Campout. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.
(The Lowcountry Outsider is an outdoors lifestyle blog contributed by ABC News 4's Josh Benser).