Stow Parks & Recreation Department employee Ken Barnhart has been working with Silver Springs Campground for almost four decades. During that time, he has seen a lot of camping clubs, Scout troops, or groups of friends camping together at the facility / often times with a "theme" attached to the campout.
"Scout troops might be working toward a particular merit badge, so much of the troops' activities center on accomplishing those requirements," Barnhart explains. "Camping clubs might have a dinner theme for their Saturday night potluck dinner. And, sometimes, a group of friends might do something special together such as placing small flags around the perimeter of their campsite on July 4th weekend, or placing jack-o-lanterns by their site marker posts for Halloween."
It's not unusual for groups to do something special for dinner. "One camping club cooked five deep-fried turkeys for their Saturday dinner," Barnhart recollects, "and I can remember a chili contest with about a dozen crock pots of various chili types.
"And, speaking of chili, one camping club that used to frequently visit here always planned something traditional for their October campout. They had a large copper kettle that hung from a tripod, and they would always build up a nice pile of glowing coals underneath it. Each club member brought a large batch of their own recipe of chili, which they added to the kettle and allowed it to simmer much of the day until dinnertime. Because each recipe was different, there was a wide variety of meats and such in the combined chili."
There has been a "Christmas In July" campout, and one group of camping friends used to bring their musical instruments to play Dixieland Jazz around the campfire (much to the delight of the other campers in the campground). There have been Easter Egg Hunts and Corn Hole Tournaments. But some recent campouts have "raised the bar" for themed campouts at Silver Springs Campground.
Enter Jeff and Angelique Kline of Stow and friends Juan and Sue Villarreal of Cuyahoga Falls. The two couples have been organizing a Memorial Day Weekend campout with fellow campers for a number of years. "Juan and I like to think of it as the 'Klinearreal' Memorial Day campout," Sue explains. "As the two originating couples, we have carried on this tradition since the last locust emergence, 17 years ago. We have done this at a few different campgrounds, but have been celebrating at Silver Springs the longest by far."
Recently, each campout involves the showing of three movies, one per night of the campout, and often it is a movie trilogy. Jeff explains, "One year, I purchased an inflatable screen and projection/sound system for my business. As we were planning the food for that year, we decided to show all three "Pirates Of The Caribbean' that weekend."
Past showings have also included the "Back To The Future" series, the "Indiana Jones" series, and "Gremlins," "ET" and "Real Steel."
"We toy with different movie themes throughout the year, trying to find a trilogy that will be appropriate for all ages," Sue explains.
Last year (2015), the three originally filmed "Star Wars" movies were shown on the large movie screen, to the delight of young and old alike. Each year, the Klines and Villarreals invite all of the other campers around Silver Springs Campground to join their group in the viewing.
Mike and Barb Radcliff of Stow have been attending the themed campouts for about six years.
All together, the "Star Wars"-themed campout group occupied 12 campsites and included 55 people. By the time other campers from surrounding campsites joined in for the movie-watching, the number was much higher.
But, last year, there was some additional fun. All of the food for the Sunday evening dinner was "Star Wars"-related. Among the many food offerings was "Yoda Fingers" (asparagus spears), "Princess Leia's Buns" (a cinnamon bun dessert), "Wooly Bantha Balls" (a Mediterranean meatball recipe with lamb, veal, and lots of herbs and spices), "Chewbacca's Chewies" and "Vader's Taters" (mashed potatoes, turned black with food coloring).
Jeff Kline remembers, "We made Watto's Wings. We had a bag of chicken wings in the freezer and needed a character to connect those to. They were easy to make."
This year (2016), the movie trilogy was the "Night At The Museum "series. Not only a fun set of movies to watch, but the various characters and creatures in the movie once again provided an ample selection of movie-related food for the Sunday evening dinner.
Mike Radcliff mentions, "These movies fit in well with the campground atmosphere and in connection with the animals. Good movies for the kids and adults alike."
Once everyone knows the movie theme, there's a rush of creativity to provide something amusing for the dinner. Because of the mummy character in one of the "Museum" movies, Stow residents Tom and Amy Karnofel (who have been coming to these themed-campouts for four years) contributed "Ahkmenrah Unwrapped." The Karnofels explain, "It's a pasta dish using linguine representing the wrap."
The Klines created "Caveman Kabobs," as Jeff explains, "I chose that because I wanted to use the campfire to make the dish and the cavemen (in the movie) were so infatuated with fire. Worked well together."
The Villarreals contributed "Anylosaurus Salad" (based on a Kenyan coleslaw-like dish called Kachumbari). As Sue explains, "Never having seen the movies, we were at a disadvantage so I thought of the coolest vegetarian dinosaur that I might see in a museum and went with that."
The Radcliffs contributed Dexter Donuts and Dum Dums, but you'll need to see the "Museum" movies to understand the connection.
Other items included Jedidia's Jambalaya, Johnny Applesauce, Rex Bites, Hun's Hot Wings, Paleo Salad, Peach Cobbler and Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
Campers throughout the campground are invited to join in for the dinners. As Mike Radcliff recalls, "I remember the year we did breakfast-themed food for dinner and there was a couple from Holland that joined in. They made crepes that were native to their country and that was very cool and educational. That is the thing about themed campouts or any campout, we welcome others in the campground to join in."
The Kline-Villarreal campouts go beyond just the movies and dinners. Other activities are carefully planned and coordinated for these fun weekends. As Jeff explains, "We have launched model rockets, held scavenger hunts, set up a kiddie pool, slip and slide, home run derby and 500 games, fishing derby, a clinic on how to prepare and care for your fishing equipment led by Juan to the little kids, Texas Hold 'Em, hikes through the woods, biking, dogs and kids to the dog park and corn hole tournaments."
One of the items on the scavenger hunt list came as a bit of a surprise to an unsuspecting city employee. "I wondered why I had suddenly become so popular, with everybody wanting to pose for a photo with me," Barnhart laughs. "It was later that I realized that a photo with me was merely part of their scavenger hunt list."
The camaraderie of the camping group develops nicely over these long weekends, especially around a community-campfire. As Jeff Kline explains, "Throughout the years, we have had many families participate. We have people that come out just for the movie and dinner. Most that stay with us come out a week before just to get a site. We have introduced new families to Silver Springs by telling them about our Memorial Day weekend that never knew the campground was there. We have had nearly 40 families participate in the weekend over the last 12 years."
Silver Springs Campground is in the midst of celebrating its 40th anniversary. For details about the campground, the anniversary discount camping rates and a very special drawing that is taking place this summer, visit www.funinstow.com and click on Parks & Places, then Silver Springs Campground.