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Glen Helen’s annual summer Ecocamps return the week of June 6; pictured are members of the Ecocamp staff on the Outdoor Education Center’s stage, near the firepit where campers gather. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

Glen Helen Nature Preserve gears up for annual Ecocamp

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Glen Helen is gearing up for this year’s summer Ecocamp for youth, held annually in and around the Outdoor Education Center, or OEC.

Beginning June 10 and continuing through Aug. 2, campers will have the chance to explore the flora and fauna of the Glen. They’ll also learn about collaborative storytelling, art, STEM, leadership and teamwork, depending on which of the 20-plus day, progressive and overnight camps they choose.

Lead Naturalist Emily Foubert and OEC Operations Manager Megan Turner spoke with the News recently while taking a quick jaunt in the woods and around the OEC dining hall, cabins and fire pit where campers will gather this summer. According to Foubert, the Glen’s successful recent capital campaign has netted more resources for Ecocamp, specifically in the hiring of two additional teachers for day camps.

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“They get to be with those day campers all day and doing age-appropriate, fun activities for 5- through 8-year-olds,” Foubert said. “We’re really excited about all the support our day-campers will have.”

In addition to day camps and overnight camps, Foubert said the OEC has added a number of progressive camps to its lineup this year. Campers ages 7–11 who want to try camping overnight, but who might not feel ready to commit to several days and nights away from home, can give it a try.

“We’ve noticed, since COVID, a change in age-range in terms of the social-emotional learning and what families and campers feel comfortable with in terms of spending the night in our dorms,” Foubert said. “A lot of campers who are a little bit older need a few steps to get there by spending the day at camp Monday–Thursday, then sleeping over on Thursday night.”

Campers ages 9–15 who feel ready can take part in overnight camps. One of the most beloved overnight Ecocamp selections, Turner said, is “Nocturnal Camp,” where young participants progressively begin to mimic the waking and sleeping cycle of the nocturnal animals that inhabit the Glen. At the same time, campers gradually earn a new understanding and appreciation of the Glen’s environs through nocturnal eyes.

“By the last day of camp, they are fully nocturnal, and because their schedule is so different from everyone else’s, they get their own dorm, so they’re creating really special bonds,” Turner said. “And it’s their tradition to wake up everyone else on that last day of camp!”

For those seasoned Ecocampers who know the Glen inside and out, there’s also “Adventure!” led by Foubert in which older participants spend time, in part, backpacking outside the Glen; last year, campers backpacked in Zaleski State Park.

“They learn about being group-reliant, packing and carrying all their food and working together — that’s a rite of passage for those campers,” Foubert said.

Working together is an ethos that permeates all Ecocamp activities — “We have an atmosphere of taking care of each other out here,” Foubert said.

On-site campers eat all their meals family-style in the OEC dining hall, and each camper has a different job when it comes to cleaning up after meals or keeping cabins in order. Campers are also challenged to keep food waste to a minimum throughout the week.

“While they’re eating family-style — saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and passing things around — they’re also learning to portion their own meals and listen to their bodies and what they need,” Turner said.

At the beginning of the week, a food waste goal is set for campers, and if they meet the goal, they’re rewarded — typically with being treated to a fun game or performance. Maybe one of the naturalists will perform the chicken dance, do a tongue-twister or wear a mustache and read from Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.”

“They love to see the naturalists get a little goofy in front of everyone,” Turner added.

For those youths who have loved Ecocamp but have now aged beyond the camp offerings, there’s the opportunity to continue to be part of it all by way of the “Leaders in Training” program.

Former campers are offered the chance to use their own experiences with Ecocamp to assist naturalists and help younger campers, and to receive training in behavior management, teaching and the natural history of the Glen. This year’s Ecocamp will have seven returning campers serving as leaders in training — and one of last year’s trainees will return this year as a full-fledged naturalist.

“They can still be a part of the traditions — but in a new way,” Turner said.

Registration is now open for Glen Helen’s Ecocamp. For a full list and descriptions of scheduled camps, as well as information on scholarships — a limited number of which are available and are awarded based on need and interest in the Glen’s mission — go to glenhelen.org/ecocamp.

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One Response to “Glen Helen Nature Preserve gears up for annual Ecocamp”

  1. Don Hubschman says:

    I have great memories of participating in programs such as this and ‘Junior Naturalists’ when I was a child growing up in YS. I’m grateful for the experiences I had and glad that opportunities like this still exist for the children of YS. Kudos to those who make it happen.

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