With helmets on and harnesses strapped in place, a small group of children prepare for their ascent into Utah Olympic Park's Discovery Course. Some are slightly nervous (though they won't readily admit it), while other confidently claim they can cross the wobbling wooden platforms at a run (without holding on to the ropes). Regardless of how they felt before entering the course, however, by the time they've flown down on the zip line, they are all stoked enough to go for round two. These kids are Outdoors Explorers and they've been having a smashing good time this week at camp provided by the Summit Land Conservancy.
The Summit Land Conservancy is a non-profit dedicated to conserving land and educating the public in Summit County. They're basically the people behind maintaining Park City's open and beautiful spaces. Recently, they've taken on another task: getting kids back outdoors. Even in a place as blessed with majestic landscapes and open spaces as Park City, it can be difficult to drag your kids away from the large and small screens that seem to follow us everywhere. In fact, it's estimated only 10 percent of today's kids spend any of their time outdoors and many have little or no interest in nature at all.
The Outdoors Explorers Camp is the Summit Land Conservancy's answer to the problem of engaging children in nature. This week-long summer day camp for kids ages 7-12 gives participating children the chance to experience some of the open spaces preserved by the Conservancy (from Round Valley to the Weber River). Through structured outdoor recreation adventures as well as free "nature play", these kids are getting some great lessons on Park City's natural and cultural history outside of the traditional classroom setting. The camp schedule offers up some of the best activities in and around Park City during the summer months, including:
- Mountain Bike Monday: Exploring Round Valley on two wheels.
- Trail Trekking Tuesday: Learning about nature and Park City's ecosystem through hiking adventures.
- Weber River Wednesday: Shredding the rapids on the Weber River and learning about one of Utah's important fresh water sources.
- Thrill Seeker Thursday: Testing your skills on the Discovery Course at Utah Olympic Park and finishing the day off with lessons on growing sustainable food in the Summit Community Gardens.
- Full Sail Friday: Find out what it takes to sail the seas with a day on the Jordanelle Reservoir.
When asked, most kids liked the river experience the best, siting everything from falling (and jumping) off the raft to the rapids and water fights. The zip lines at Olympic Park are also a pretty big hit. Some of them even admit to learning things, including the names of flowers and other plants. "It's surprising how much they pick up," says Shawna McGowan, one of the counselors. "They remember a lot of what you say, even if it seems like they're not listening."
The Summit Land Conservancy committed to 5 weeks of the program this summer and it's been a huge success with sold-out sessions and some campers even repeating. Since the camp sessions capped at only 12 children, the program is able to actively engage with every child (and let's face it, 12 is already a handful). Most of the campers are local Park City kids whose families found out about the camps predominantly through word-of-mouth. In all likelihood, the Outdoors Explorers Camp will be back next summer, so if you've got a kid who's ready to take on Thrill Seeker Thursday or Trail Trekking Tuesday, keep a lookout for next year's camp dates.