CAMP ZAMA, Japan (June 5, 2020) – While some members of the Camp Zama community have literally camped in their back yards for a change of pace due to COVID-19 restrictions, leaders here have expanded their options with free, on-post campsites.
“Having an opportunity to leave the house under these current restrictions we are under, and spend some time in the open air and under the stars, creates an environment where the family can reenergize,” said Rick Bosch, director of Camp Zama’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
The socially distanced campsites include eight in Dewey Park on Camp Zama; 12 on Sagami General Depot; and 10 on Sagamihara Family Housing Area. All of the sites are in green, peaceful sections of the installations, include 24-hour bathroom access, and are within the 10-kilometer travel limit.
Col. Thomas Matelski, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan, camped out at Sagami General Depot with his wife Amy, and their sons Timothy, Zachary and Joshua, during Memorial Day weekend.
The Sagami General Depot includes six sites near the Japanese shrine in Shrine Park and another six sites across the street. The Matelski family camped in Shrine Park.
“It was peaceful and beautiful,” Matelski said. “Shrine Park is a great place with a lot of unique history and natural beauty.”
Matelski said he and his family decided to go camping because they wanted a change of pace and location, and they enjoyed the experience.
In addition to spending time outside, they were able to have a fire (campers must bring their own above-ground fire pits with a screen top), and they were also able to bring their dog, Matelski said.
“MWR and [the Directorate of Public Works] have done a phenomenal job of bringing this idea together to give the community something fun to do until restrictions are loosened,” Matelski said.
Ken Estabrook, chief Sagami sub-facilities engineer at Sagami General Depot, also took advantage of the free campsites there Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s peaceful,” Estabrook said of the experience. “When you go camping, that’s what you want, that sensation of freedom. You want that ability to feel like you’re at peace.”
Although Sagami General Depot is an industrial facility, the installation has a lot of green space, and on weekends there is no traffic, Estabrook said.
“For being in the middle of a city, it’s eerily quiet,” Estabrook said.
Bosch said FMWR’s Community Immunity Team, which aims to improve morale during COVID-19 restrictions, developed the idea for the campsites.
“The team wanted create an opportunity for the community members to spend more time outside of their quarters and enjoy more of the assets we have in the USAG-J community,” Bosch said.
There is no end date slated for the campsites, Bosch said, and if people use them, FMWR might expand the infrastructure and support and keep them after COVID-19 restrictions are gone.
Lucinda Ward, head of the Community Immunity Team and Camp Zama school liaison officer, said the feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We are elated that the community is making the best out of this COVID situation and are taking advantage of the great opportunities MWR is offering,” Ward said.
Specifics about the campsites and the rules are available on the Camp Zama MWR Facebook page.
Campers should know, for example, that although propane camping stoves, fires and pets are allowed at the Sagami General Depot and SFHS sites, pets and open flames are not allowed at Camp Zama.