This couple is publishing an anthology of campfire stories from America’s national parks

Celebrate the Park’s 100th anniversary with a collection of stories sourced straight from your favorite wild places

Campfire stories book

‘Campfire Stories’ will collect folk stories and legends from six of America’s National Parks. Photo: Courtesy of Ilyssa Kyu

Dave and Ilyssa Kyu owe their love for camping to a bag of trash. Ok--many, many bags of trash.

“We were planning a road trip to Toronto, but when the time came around, they were in the middle of a trash strike," Ilyssa says. “The city was essentially shut down because there was nowhere else to put the garbage. Garbage bags where literally piled as high as the tippy-top of fences around basketball courts.”

Campfire stories book

‘Campfire Stories’ offers entertainment after dark for campers. Photo: Courtesy of Ilyssa Kyu

Not exactly the welcoming atmosphere they’d been expecting. So instead, the couple took the advice of some friends, and rerouted to Acadia National Park in Maine. The only issue was that they knew absolutely nothing about camping.

“We did everything wrong,” she laughs. “We didn't grow up with camping, so we slept on the cold granite ground inside our tent, which completely zapped our body heat. We were miserable.”

Regardless, they were hooked. The Philadelphia-based couple has returned to Maine every year since, and insist they've gotten much more adept at the whole camping experience. Except, that is, when it comes to entertaining themselves around the campfire.

Campfire stories book

Husband-and-wife team Dave and Ilyssa Kyu

“We were sitting around the campfire and I watched as my hand (with a mind of its own) went to reach for my phone,” Ilyssa remembers. “Here I am, in the midst of beautiful trees on Mount Desert Island, sitting by a fire with my husband, and I reached for my phone!”

Discouraged that she hadn’t come readily prepared with something to do, she found herself wishing she knew some great stories to tell around the fire. When she got home, she began looking up campfire tales to tell during their next trip. However, she couldn’t find any stories that weren’t highly regional or a ghost story. Where were all the stories of adventure, history and culture? Where were the folktales and legends about these beautiful places?

Campfire stories book

Working with historians in Acadia National Park. Photo: Courtesy of Ilyssa Kyu

In May of 2016, the husband-and-wife team will be visiting five national parks--Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain, Zion, Yosemite and Yellowstone (they’ve ticked off Acadia). They’ll be collecting myths, fables, legends and ballads from the communities in and around each one. The stories will be compiled into their forthcoming book, Campfire Stories from America's Favorite National Parks.

“National parks provide a great introduction to the outdoors for folks who have little to no experience in nature, by providing the amenities and comforts of home,” Ilyssa explains. “We decided that structuring the book around national parks would not only give us the framework of where to pull stories from, but it was a perfect way to appreciate their centennial anniversary.”

The couple plans on spending two weeks in each of the five remaining parks, working with museums, historical societies, anthropologists, National Park Service employees and long-time residents to figure out which stories should be included in the book. Readers can help support the couple's project, as well as secure a first-print copy of the book, on Kickstarter.

“We're not the experts here!” Ilyssa insists. “We hope these short stories will reignite our imagination about the wild, and also learn much more about the human history of each of the parks.”

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