Backpacker magazine's Eric Zinczenko deserves significant credit for pulling off the impossible on June 4. Thanks to a ton of effort, and quite a lot of faith placed in Rodale by the City of New York Parks and Recreation department, there was a legal, sponsored, overnight camping event smack dab in the middle of Central Park, as well as associated camping events in four other NYC boroughs. Â
A part of the larger Adventures NYC, a daylong event to encourage New Yorkers to take advantage of the outdoors right outside their doorstep, Under the Stars campouts took place in The Great Hill of Central Park, Alley Pond Park in Queens, Marine Park in Brooklyn, High Rock Park in Staten Island, and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Backpacker representatives told us that they estimate 150 New Yorkers spent the night in tents.
"We had to make the campout part of our event smaller than we wanted," said Zinczenko, publisher of Backpacker magazine. "It was important for us to be able to show the parks department and the city that we could do this without leaving a trace, without staking the ground, and that we would be very good corporate citizens."
Zinczenko said he believes Backpacker was able to pull that off and a whole lot more. Thanks to plenty of pre-event coverage, and the very cooperative sunny weather, Zinczenko told SNEWSÂ® that more than 5,000 New Yorkers spent time outdoors and in the parks, including volunteer trails and parks maintenance events, during the day leading up to the Under the Stars campout.
"We picked June 4 as the day for Adventures NYC as it coincided with National Trails Day and to us that sent a great message that we would not only be showing New Yorkers how to take better advantage of their city's greenways, but also how to take care of them as well," Zinczenko said.
By all accounts, the trails and parks service component was well received as estimates placed the average attendance at over 14 National Trails Day events citywide with between 30 and 60 volunteers per event.
But what had Zinczenko most excited were the first-time outdoor enthusiasts he encountered.
"Two weeks ago in Union Square during our Gear Expo (the prelude to the day in the parks), I met an athletic trainer who had never climbed before or spent any time outdoors before," Zinczenko told us. "He came to the EMS climbing wall and put on a harness for the first time."
Using a gift certificate EMS gave him, that athletic trainer then went immediately to EMS and purchased his own climbing harness and a pair of climbing shoes.
"He showed up two weeks later at the EMS wall in Central Park and set the speed record on the wall, making it to the top in five seconds. He told me he had been practicing for two weeks and couldn't wait to start climbing more outdoors," Zinczenko said.
In addition to the climbing walls, various activities coordinated during Adventures NYC included a backcountry cooking presentation hosted by Backpacker's contributing editor Kristin Hostetter, GPS instruction by Editor-in-Chief Jon Dorn, Overnight 101 instruction courses hosted by Eric and Laura Poole (Backpacker's Get Out More! mobile marketing team), kayaking clinics, Get Fit for Adventure! fitness classes hosted by roadfit.com, and luge on wheels and trampolines provided by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. Â
Climber and jokester Timmy O'Neill served as the MC for Adventures NYC in Central Park and kept everyone laughing throughout the day.
Subaru and EMS joined Backpacker as sponsors for the events. Â
Zinczenko told SNEWSÂ® that based on the overwhelming success the magazine experienced in New York, he would like to see the program franchised in Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta -- any major urban center where Backpacker can promote the spirit of the outdoors to an urban-focused potential outdoors person.
"I have been in this industry a long time, and this is the first time I believe that the industry is clearly working together to grow the industry by promoting the spirit of the outdoors to major urban centers," said Zinczenko.
SNEWSÂ® View: Zinczenko first told us about his idea for a campout in Central Park and day of adventures in New York two years ago, after he took the job as publisher, leaving Outside to do so. Our eyebrows rose a bit, we'll admit, but at the same time, we bought into Zinczenko's infectious enthusiasm and vision for an unusual and very grand scheme. It brings a smile to the faces of our team to see the dream become reality.
During Zinczenko's tenure, with a lot of help from Jon Dorn and the rest of the Backpacker team we know, Backpacker has been successfully re-branding itself as the source for finding adventures right outside the doorstep. The magazine has Get Out More, which speaks to the core enthusiasts who wander farther from home. Adventures speaks to the urban-centric folks who could become outdoor enthusiasts with a little push and inspiration. And Under the Stars, though very small in its first year, is a concept that can push outdoor and camping awareness to a much larger mass. Think camping events at concerts, ballgames and more.