There was a time when going off to summer camp meant learning how to build a campsite and rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. And while many boys and girls have become rooted in a tech-driven world, a place still exists where they can experience the great outdoors just as their parents did before them.
The Fort McAllister Junior Ranger Camp is located just off the walking trail at Fort McAllister State Historic Park and it’s teaching kids with all degrees of outdoor experience how to appreciate the world they live in while preserving the environment for those who follow.
Day 1 introduced a group of a about 20 young rangers to their first activity: prepping for a two-mile nature hike. The kids were challenged by park naturalists Trevor Johnston and Sarah Miller to “leave no trace behind,” meaning they needed to complete the hike without leaving any trash behind, as well as pick up any trash they saw along the way.
“We do teach them how to pick up trash, but we also teach them how to respect the environment — and more importantly — how to respect each other,” Johnston said. “Those are the kinds of things we talk about.”
Over the course of the weeklong camp, the boys and girls also learned a variety of outdoors skills. They underwent Civil War soldier training, made their own trail mix, had a tent-pitching competition, constructed real Indian headdresses and pushed out on a canoe trip down Redbird Creek.
Some might call it a day of fun in the woods, but for Johnston it’s an attempt to expose kids to their environment in way they’ve never been before.
“Being able to sit in a classroom is fine, but when you actually go outside and learn it affects them in a whole different way,” he said. “We make sure they’re actually active and that they’re environment is something they can play in. I think it’s a much better way to educate them and they end up having a lot more fun.”
Of the 20 youngsters that participated in the group, most were between the ages of 8 and 12, and only three of the rangers were girls. But Johnston said the girls are often just as tough, if not tougher, than the boys.
“Sometimes they can be a little outnumbered. But from what I’ve seen, they’re just as active as the boys,” he said. “They like to get out and run around the trail. One of the girls just darted to pick up trash — she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.”
The Junior Ranger Camp is helping kids tune into their environment and the history of the area in which they live.
“We pretty much use up the entire park,” said Johnston. “Almost every day of the five days puts the kids in a different location. We go out to the Civil War fort, we go pioneer camping — our days are planned around the history and the culture of Fort McAllister.”
The park’s first Junior Ranger Camp of the summer ended Friday, but a new crop of rangers can still register for the second week, which takes place July 15-19. The camp runs weekdays from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and participation is $90 per ranger.
For more information, call (912) 727-2339 or head to www.gastateparks.org.