Emmett King kayaks at Springbrook State Park as part of the University of Iowa Wildlife Camp on Thursday, June 29.

Students participate in Wildlife Camp at Springbrook State Park

Forty students entering third-through-sixth grade participated in the Wildlife Camp at Springbrook State Park near Guthrie Center. The camp, which was operated under the University of Iowa, featured a number of hands-on outdoor activities aimed at helping kids understand and appreciate nature. 

“We want kids to be exposed to the outdoors,” said program coordinator Jay Gorsh. “We want to teach them to be more aware of their natural surroundings, be more appreciative and figure out different ways that they can make a difference and have some kind of an impact on their environment.” 

Camp activities were divided into four subjects:  aquatics, forestry, survival and history. Campers were split into four groups of 10, and each group of students rotated to a different subject each day.

Aquatics featured kayaking on the lake, kayaking relays and creek stomping. In survival, students were able to go fishing, build a fire and build a shelter in the forest. Forestry taught students about trees and animals. Campers had the chance to identify insects inside of a rotting log in the forest and play a game called “developers versus foresters,” in which the foresters had to protect the forest from those who wished to destroy it. In history, students had the opportunity to learn about Native Americans and see various fossils. 

Many of the camp’s staff members came from local school districts, including both Panorama and ACGC. 

“We went to visit schools back in April, and as soon as we got done with the school visits, within a matter of a couple of days, the camp filled completely,” said Gorsh.

He noted that the camp at Springbrook was the only camp in which they had to turn families away because they had reached capacity. 

“At Springbrook, it seems like the local connection is really strong,” said Gorsh. “Springbrook has always had a strong connection to the local community and provided kids with education opportunities.”

Other Iowa State parks that held or will hold Wildlife Camps sponsored by the University of Iowa this summer include Maquoketa Caves State Park in Maquoketa, Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque, George Wyth State Park in Cedar Falls, Viking Lake State Park in Stanton and Ledges State Park in Madrid. 

The University of Iowa Wildlife Camps began in 1991 with the goal of educating young students about the importance of preserving and appreciating the natural world and wildlife. Since then, over 20,000 children have participated in the camps. This is the first year that the Iowa City Wildlife Camp model has been implemented in parks across the state. To make the project possible, the University of Iowa Wildlife Camps received a grant from the REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) Conservation Education Program.

“Without the REAP funding, all of the time that it took to get all this set up and put in place probably wouldn’t have been possible, or the upfront cost would have meant we would have had to charge more for the camp,” said Gorsh. “Because we got the REAP funding, we were able to offer it for $100 and make it more affordable for families.” 

Gorsh says that with the success of the State Park Wildlife Camps this summer, the University of Iowa intends to run the program again next year. He says the program will look at expanding group sizes or offering multiple weeks of camp so that families won’t be turned away in the future. 

“We’re going to want to make sure that we don’t have to turn kids away next summer,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun process to work through.”

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