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Camp teaches youth about nature

Students returning as mentors is the final culmination
Kyle Wells

A group of grade six students from across School District 47 converged recently for an outdoor summer program that saw them climbing rocks, canoeing across lakes and spending two nights camping at Anthony Island on Inland Lake.

The program is conducted through the Leadership Ecology Adventure Program (LEAP), which provides students with outdoor educational opportunities with a focus on leadership skills. The program is a smaller version of a nine-day course for high school age youth that  runs through LEAP as well.

Also taking part were three former students of the program who have come back as supervisors. Complete with LEAP nature names, Matt “Treebeard” Emig, Krista “Cypress” Cawley and Ben “Cougar” Perrault are all from Powell River and returned to lend a hand. This is Emig’s fourth year working with the team and Cawley and Perrault are back for the first time after graduating from Brooks Secondary School earlier this year.

“It’s rewarding work. I think it’s a noble thing to try to get kids connected with nature again and loving nature and appreciating and cherishing it,” said Emig. “After all, we all come from it. Everything that we have essentially comes from nature.”

“Their energy is super cool, just seeing how stoked they are to be out here,” said Perrault. “With [Coast Mountain Academy] this year I learned a lot about nature, about myself, about stepping out of my box, about confidence and gaining so many if I can pass on anything I’ve learned from that, any little gem or anything that I can pass on to these guys, I’d feel on top of the world.”

The driving idea behind the program is mentorship and the students returning as mentors are helping organizers realize the program’s overall goals. The idea of nature as mentor and as class planner also plays heavily into the program. Participants are encouraged to be curious about nature and to let the environment around them guide their studies and act as teacher.

“It’s almost like they’re totally different kids out here than they are at their house or at school,” said Cawley. “It’s really allowing me to apply what I’ve learned in a way that’s similar yet different. I’ve been mentored by some fantastic people but now I’m getting the opportunity to mentor.”

The camp started off with a day trip south of town for some team building and a swim. The next day the students went out rock climbing in Stillwater and then gathered at Inland Lake the day after to canoe to Anthony Island. While on Anthony Island participants took part in activities such as shelter building, making fires, bird nest construction, nature art and various instructional lessons.

Ryan Barfoot, director of ecological education programs, believes one of the most educational aspects of the program is the fact that it is process-based rather than result-based. Whether it be the canoe trip or the shelter building, or any of the other outdoor activities, the emphasis is always on the process and taking in the richness of the experience, rather than focusing purely on the outcome.

“It’s about the conversations you have, it’s about the feeling of the paddle through the water, it’s about seeing different animals along the way,” said Barfoot. “It’s not necessarily about even what we do, it’s about how we do it.”

Something as simple as having the students learn about the rewards of self-propulsion, such as canoeing, can be eye-opening to children who haven’t ever had the chance to do such an activity.

“It’s quite an awakening to realize how much energy goes into being self-propelled,” said Karin Westland, coordinator. “I think there’s lots of important lessons there too.”

The program is also an example of the kind of activities that will be run out of School District 47’s new outdoor camp currently being constructed in Haywire Bay and slated for use next summer.