A new program at Maryland state parks lets military service members and veterans check out camping gear for a day of hiking or an overnight stay.

“Operation: Campout!” started in early August at five state parks. This program is designed for military individuals and military families new to camping or experienced campers stationed or recovering in the area, delmarvatoday.com reported.

Participants can call ahead to reserve camping gear such as a six-person tent, sleeping pads, camp chairs, a cooking stove and even roasting sticks for marshmallows.

The program was the brainchild of Christina Holden, who does public relations for the Maryland Park Service. She said the idea came to her while doing miltary-related volunteer work, and brought it to her employer, the state Department of Natural Resources.

She said she hears a common refrain from service members stationed in Maryland: We live here, but we don’t really go off base.

And for first-time campers, “this provides a means to do that, for people who’d want to give camping a try,” she said. “It seemed like a perfect fit for the Park Service. If they’re stationed here, (it) doesn’t necessarily mean they have the gear here.”

Camping equipment manufacturer The North Face has donated the gear. So far, the program is in place at Swallow Falls, New Germany, Rocky Gap, Patapsco Valley and Pocomoke River state parks.

The program will draw on Maryland’s proximity to so many military installations, such as Fort Meade, Fort Belvoir, Quantico and Walter Reed. To her knowledge, Maryland is the only park service in the country that has a focus on military outreach, Holden said.

Statewide, 11 people already have taken advantage of the free gear, with another eight reservations pending, Holden said.

Holden said she expects that many soldiers, seamen, airmen and Marines who use the free gear will make it into a family trip.

“The parks have so much to offer in terms of recreation, fishing, canoeing, kayaking. Some really great trains. It’s really an introduction in many cases to nature here in Maryland,” she said.

Pocomoke River State Park  hopes to include screened-in rooms for campers, because it does get buggy. They are now looking into funding for those.