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Library rent-a-tent helps locals explore outdoors
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A few months ago, an employee at the Chestatee Regional Library System hatched a plan that many were skeptical of: Stocking the library with a few tents and other camping essentials for people to check out, just as they would check out a book or a DVD.

Today the library branch has three tents in Dawsonville and three in Lumpkin County, and each can be checked out for two weeks at a time.

STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and math, grants from the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) helped the library purchase the tents.

Branch Manager Stacey Leonhardt, who works at the Dawson County Public Library and its satellite location on Hwy. 53, said the tents are for families who want to try camping, but aren't sure they want to spend the money on tents and camping supplies without trying it first. The rentals are a great way to try the activity out without having to spend a dime, she said.

The one stipulation is that the tents must be returned to the library in the same condition they left, and that may require cleaning if the tents have been taken outdoors.

One local single mom, Bernadette Long, rented a tent from the library for her and her two daughters, who are 7 and 11. The family took the tent and some camping supplies up to Blue Ridge for a camping trial-run.

"We survived," Long joked. "Sleeping outside wasn't as disgusting as I thought it would be, and now I know what all I need to bring next time...a U-Haul."

Long said it was helpful to be able to rent the tent and not have to pay, because buying the tent would be too expensive, especially when she didn't know if her daughters would like the experience or not.

"I think it's great that they have this equipment so accessible for everyone," Long said. "I learned about the tents from [Leonhardt]. When I picked it up it was in perfect condition, and I made sure that's how I brought it back."

Leonhardt said the tents are all checked out as of right now, and she expects they will remain that way through the leaf-peeping fall season.

STEAM grants have also helped the library acquire other items that people don't normally assume libraries would have. The library has received GPLS STEAM grants for the last three years, according to Leonhardt.

STEAM resources that patrons can check out or use at the library include telescopes, binoculars, battery operated lanterns, a 3D printer, GPS for geocaching, mini computers for kids, robots, Legos, art supplies, books and anything else that correlates with any of the STEAM subjects.

Long commended the other services that the library provides for families with younger children.

"They have so many great services," she said. "My kids love storytime, especially when children's librarian Tracy Walker tells the stories. You can also check out park passes and get zoo tickets, and one of my daughters rides the bus from the middle school to the library to practice band instruments with some of the high school students in one of their rooms."

Long said that no matter what you're interested in, there is something for you at the library.