DISCOVERY BAY -- In 2013, Discovery Bay boasted the largest community Great American Campout in the nation, with close to 1,000 participants. On June 28, the small town known for creating big events is planning to go even bigger, with more people, longer shows and more experiences to enjoy.
The free-for-all, two-day event is part of the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout, which encourages families and friends to reconnect with each other and the outdoors, to unplug and enjoy an evening free of schedules.
In true Discovery Bay style, the town of 13,000 is inviting everyone to come to Cornell Park, pitch their tents, roast marshmallows, sit around the campfire and relish a free, family-friendly evening under the stars.
"This is our fourth annual Great American Campout, and it's a great opportunity for families with children to experience the outdoors, to go camping for the night and get a feel for it," said Rick Howard, general manager of the town's community services district.
The event is not limited to families, and is popular across age groups.
"We have so many couples who come camp with us, couples from their 20s to their 80s, and the Boy Scouts are there to help people set up their tents," said Amanda Dove, an organizer and co-sponsor.
With more than 1,100 already registered, the event could not take place without tremendous support from the community and beyond. Discovery Bay waived the $150 park registration fee for the event.
Within the community, Boardwalk Grill and Big Al's Café are donating food, with the Byron Delta Lions Club and Brentwood Rotary Club supplying the cooking duties.
The term campout seems inadequate to describe Discovery Bay's event. Activities are planned for all ages, starting with a Kiddie Corner hosting interactive games and activities, a little obstacle course, and small prizes so that everyone walks away a winner.
Older youths can head to the climbing wall, obstacle course and tweener stunt area, and try their hand at camping games and geocaching.
Last year's one-hour Wildlife Show was so popular that, this year, National Wildlife Federation naturalist and TV personality David Mizejewski will occupy a huge pavilion donated by Coleman for a two-hour program.
"Last year, he brought us a little dragon, alligators, giant snakes and some other exotic animals that kids never lay eyes on," Dove said. "We didn't have nearly enough room, so this year we've doubled our space and our time so everyone has a chance to really enjoy this show."
Singing and dancing campers won't be left out as Disney takes the stage for a three-hour interactive performance. "If you like 'Frozen,' if you like Disney shows and if you love the Disney world, then this is for you," Dove said.
Throw in an ice cream eating contest, a flashlight scavenger hunt, star gazing, s'mores led by the Lions Club youth group the Leos, a fire pit manned by the Boy Scouts and a pancake breakfast, all free, and it's easy to see why another huge turnout is expected.
One final incentive is the Great American Campout essay contest, in which winners could win one of the 40 tents, 80 sleeping bags and 80 chairs donated by Coleman. The open-ended topic asks why your family deserves the camping equipment and why camping is special to you.
Dove was instrumental in convincing Discovery Bay of the importance of this event in 2011, and it has grown in size, support and enthusiasm since then. She describes it as a wonderful way for newcomers to meet their community and for everyone to reaffirm the value of the place they call home.
"This is such a great way to throw everyone together and say this is a wonderful, safe, friendly environment for us all to play together and enjoy the outdoors in our great town and great park," she said.
Howard echoed Dove's enthusiastic support of the event. "We're looking forward to this great event again this year. It's something the community has really come to enjoy, and we are pleased to participate," Howard said. "It's what a community is all about."
What: Discovery Bay Great American Campout:
When: 2 p.m. June 28 to 10 a.m. June 29
Where: Cornell Park, 505 Discovery Bay Boulevard.
Details: The event is free, but registration is required. For registration, timetable of events and essay contest information: www.dbcommunitycampout.com.