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Nature Explorers Summer Day Camp offered for the first time

By Staff | Jun 24, 2015

Alwing Camacho looks at what he picked up in his net while Norah Avilez takes a photograph at Gulfside City Park Wednesday morning. MEGHAN McCOY

Many campers eagerly walked towards the water with nets in hand at Gulfside City Park Wednesday morning in hopes of finding some shells to bring back with them to J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge.

“I like finding little sea creatures,” Milena Craig, 10, said.

Ranger Becky Larkins, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge environmental education specialist, said this is the first summer they have offered the Nature Explorers Day Camp because they saw a need in the community.

The camp targeted students, from Title 1 schools, Larkins said, because it’s important to reach children who otherwise might not be able to afford camp. A lottery drawing was held to determine the remaining spots with the camp being limited to 14 students.

An anonymous donor provided a $15,000 grant to the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, which covered such costs as lunch, transportation, T-shirts, digital cameras, as well as scholarship opportunities for the first camp. Many businesses on the island also contributed in various ways to help make the camp an enjoyable experience for the youngsters.

Baylee Teeling searches the sand at Gulfside City Park for shells and sea life during a Explorers Day Camp field trip. MEGHAN McCOY

“It’s a good camp and this is the first camp they ever did,” Milena said, smiling.

The camp, which is held for six hours Monday through Friday is full of activities on the refuge, as well as other locations around the island. For only two hours out of the six, the youngsters are inside for lunch and breaks providing ample opportunity to learn about nature and the environment.

Milena said she wanted to attend the camp because she thought it would be fun.

“It’s a good chance to learn about the environment and they are doing a good job at it,” she said of teaching them. “It’s very fun. You get a workout.”

The first day of camp, the youngsters, ages 9 to 12, went on a three-mile hike along the Indigo Trail.

Milena Craig shows excitement as she looks through her findings. MEGHAN McCOY

“We went on a four-mile bike ride and it was a lot of fun,” Milena said of the second day of camp that took them around the refuge.

The camp also included many activities, one of which was creating solar panel ovens, which she enjoyed because they made s’mores.

Nature Explorers Summer Day Camp offered ample opportunities for the campers to learn about nature. One of the subjects that stuck out for Milena was learning about black mangroves and how they sweat and taste like salt. She also learned that indigo snakes are both endangered and nice after walking on the Indigo Trail.

Other activities included nature photography, wildlife observation, saltwater fishing, kayaking, nature sketching, archery and nature crafts. The camp is being held for four weeks.

Ranger Becky Larkins, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge environmental education specialist talks with camper Daniel Caicedo about his find. MEGHAN McCOY

Alwing Camacho examines his net after dipping it into the water. MEGHAN McCOY