This summer the WVBG offered nature camps for children ages four to thirteen. As in previous years, the campers had fun learning about trees, plants, insects, water, wildlife, and birds and of course spent many hours exploring the Garden, experiencing the wonders of nature. This year, however, provided something more. First of all, this was the first year we offered a new camp, Camp SOAR: Stewardship, Outdoor Appreciation, and Readiness. Secondly, thanks in part to a grant from the Oakland Foundation, we were able to partner with the Shack Neighborhood House (the Shack) to provide camp scholarships to 12 children who otherwise may not have been able to attend. When planning both of these projects, many questions arose: would the different activities and age group targeted with Camp SOAR attract new campers? Would the children from the Shack feel comfortable at and enjoy camp? Upon finishing up camps this summer the answers were clear: yes, and yes! Personally, it was wonderful for me to interact with the children from the Shack, to hear them excitedly tell stories and see their faces light up when learning and making discoveries. Of course, it’s always a pleasure to share the camp experience with all of the campers who attend. It was a bonus to know that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity for some of them. Since there were many people who contributed to the success of these new initiatives, I asked some of them to share their voices for this article. Here is what they had to say:

Tia Lasporgara, Director of the Shack Neighborhood House, shared “I want everyone to know what you all are doing for the community. Not only are the grounds free to explore and hike but you have made it possible for our children who may otherwise not have been able to attend, to attend an amazing camp that helps build appreciation for nature and empower self-growth and inspire passion about our environment. There is no denying the power that being outside and exploring and education has on our well-being. On behalf of the Shack I just want to say thank you.”

Shack campers joined in the fun including watching a snake, catching insects in the woods and crayfish in the creek, investigating creek macroinvertebrates and owl pellets, and reflecting with journal entries.

Photos by Erin Smaldone and Mandy Webster.

We were fortunate to have staff from the Shack accompany the Shack campers during each camp. Jeannie and Mandy, who each attended several camps, were both amazing. They fit right in with the WVBG camp staff, added to the experience of all of the campers, and were a welcome addition.

Jeannie Galbraith with the Shack commented “Thank you again for allowing The Shack Neighborhood House kiddos to be a part of  the 2017 Summer Nature Camps at the West Virginia Botanic Garden! The camp made a true impression on each camper! It gave them an opportunity to go outside their comfort zone touching all the creepy crawly insects and crayfish. They enjoyed meeting new children from theircommunity that shared similar interests with them. It was such an incredible experience listening to them talk about nature, find new interests, and try new activities. Many of them talked about wanting to visit the Botanic Garden with their families, as well as come back to camp next year. It was eye opening for them, and for me. We really appreciate all the time and effort that went into the Nature Camp.” Mandy Webster added “It was inspiring to see the children explore new areas of education that may not have been anything they had known they were even interested in, such as bird calls, water quality, and local flora and fauna. One of my favorite parts of the two weeks I chaperoned was when the children bonded with the landscape. I heard conversations of why it is important to conserve, why it is important to respect, and most importantly have fun while doing it. It is hard to get a group of kiddos to sit quietly and reflect on their surroundings;however, with the knowledge they gained they became empowered to soak in as much as they could. The Shack campers chattered away each day on our ride back. They wanted to know more about each topic, discuss their finds for the day, and show off the tools they had made; binoculars, field guides, and watershed maps. Of course, they showed off their owl pellet finds! Most importantly, these camps planted the seed for them to know they can enjoy nature and have lots of fun doing it.”

WVBG Educator Stacy Clovis-Woofter led our first Camp SOAR: Stewardship & Outdoor Appreciation and Readiness, for children ages nine to thirteen. Her reflection paints a clear picture of her and co-instructor Vada Boback’s week with the campers: “What an amazing week we shared! From building a fantastic trail by-pass and trail-blazing team stewardship project, to hiking every trail at the wondrous WVBG together; then creating uniquely personal maps throughout the week, while pausing to observe, connect, ask questions, and reflect in our nature journals. We learned basic orientation and readiness skills along the way, with plenty of open time to appreciate and enjoy nature’s gifts while hiking, splashing in Tibbs Run, or resting in hammocks. We created some cool art, practiced mindfulness and yoga, released two rehabilitated Kestrels, learned about a dazzling array of trees, plants, mushrooms, and wildlife, and celebrated new friendships together. Gracious thank-you’s to: Long-time WVBG volunteer and WV Master Naturalist Ellen Hrabovsky, for her outstanding stewardship project direction and guidance; Nature writer and ACCA (Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia) Co-founder Katie Fallon, for reading her new children’s book Look, See the Bird! and bringing two rehabilitated Kestrels for us to release; Moonbow Yoga and Wellness Owner and Educator Heidi Sherwin, for the beautiful mindfulness walk, fun poses, and ideas for reconnecting to nature; and WVU Extension Agents and 4-H Development Leaders, Becca Fint-Clark and Mary Kerns, for their community visit and fun craft.”

Part of Camp SOAR was a stewardship project. WVBG Volunteer Ellen Hrabovsky led the project, which involved re-routing a section of the Wetland Loop trail. She noted that “It was such a joy to watch these youngsters dig in with all their might. They created a lovely bypass that exceeded my expectations. It was an absolute pleasure to work with these wonderful people and future ecologists.”

We are extremely thankful to all who helped make camps this year a success. Big thanks to camp leaders Stacy Clovis-Woofter, Vada Boback, Saahirah Cua, and Caden Haines. And of course much of this would not have been possible without the generous financial support provided by the Weldon Family Foundation and the Oakland Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Monongahela Master Naturalists, the Service League of Morgantown, and Valley Hills Garden Club.

WVBG Educator Stacy Clovis-Woofter led our first Camp SOAR: Stewardship & Outdoor Appreciation and Readiness, for children ages nine to thirteen. Her reflection paints a clear picture of her and co-instructor Vada Boback’s week with the campers: “What an amazing week we shared! From building a fantastic trail by-pass and trail-blazing team stewardship project, to hiking every trail at the wondrous WVBG together; then creating uniquely personal maps throughout the week, while pausing to observe, connect, ask questions, and reflect in our nature journals. We learned basic orientation and readiness skills along the way, with plenty of open time to appreciate and enjoy nature’s gifts while hiking, splashing in Tibbs Run, or resting in hammocks. We created some cool art, practiced mindfulness and yoga, released two rehabilitated Kestrels, learned about a dazzling array of trees, plants, mushrooms, and wildlife, and celebrated new friendships together. Gracious thank-you’s to: Long-time WVBG volunteer and WV Master Naturalist Ellen Hrabovsky, for her outstanding stewardship project direction and guidance; Nature writer and ACCA (Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia) Co-founder Katie Fallon, for reading her new children’s book Look, See the Bird! and bringing two rehabilitated Kestrels for us to release; Moonbow Yoga and Wellness Owner and Educator Heidi Sherwin, for the beautiful mindfulness walk, fun poses, and ideas for reconnecting to nature; and WVU Extension Agents and 4-H Development Leaders, Becca Fint-Clark and Mary Kerns, for their community visit and fun craft.”

Part of Camp SOAR was a stewardship project. WVBG Volunteer Ellen Hrabovsky led the project, which involved re-routing a section of the Wetland Loop trail. She noted that “It was such a joy to watch these youngsters dig in with all their might. They created a lovely bypass that exceeded my expectations. It was an absolute pleasure to work with these wonderful people and future ecologists.”

We are extremely thankful to all who helped make camps this year a success. Big thanks to camp leaders Stacy Clovis-Woofter, Vada Boback, Saahirah Cua, and Caden Haines. And of course much of this would not have been possible without the generous financial support provided by the Weldon Family Foundation and the Oakland Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Monongahela Master Naturalists, the Service League of Morgantown, and Valley Hills Garden Club.

Camp SOAR campers had a fantastic week at the Garden including re-routing a trail, exploring and having fun out on the trails, experiences with guest instructors, and playing in the creek.

Photos by Stacy Clovis-Woofter and Vada Boback.

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