Program shares nature of outdoor work and play with area kids
It’s not your usual kids’ summer camp.
It’s children building and designing trails, restoring and improving wildlife habitats, improving area parks and learning skills from team building to outdoor living.
It’s also youngsters fishing on Grand Mesa, hiking over Colorado National Monument, doing projects at The Art Center and visiting area museums and dinosaur digs. And thrown in is an overnight camping trip to the Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area.
It’s earning a $500 college scholarship from Americorps by completing 100 hours of volunteer service, and it costs nothing for the participants.
This is Learn and Serve America Summer of Service 2010, a program designed to encourage service-learning and inspire an appreciation of nature in children ages 11–14.
Funded by a $205,000 grant to the Southwest Conservation Corps, the program is designed to expand Youth Corps across the intermountain West. The three-year grant funds Learn and Serve experiences this year in four states for 410 kids. The program is funded for the next two summers.
Thirty Western Slope kids enrolled in the program for this summer’s two sessions through Mesa County Partner’s Western Colorado Conservation Corps.
The corps’ Learn and Serve America’s program involves a commitment from each child of eight hours a day, four days a week for four weeks. The program emphasizes three main goals — volunteerism, education and recreation — and brings the experience alive with a hands-on approach.
On a recent Thursday, 20 middle school children donned junior-sized yellow hard hats in a parking area on Grand Mesa, grabbed their tools and trudged down a gravel path past Jumbo Lake.
Braced with bug spray against the onslaught of forest mosquitoes, one crew of 10 and two adult supervisors headed out to spread gravel on a path they were making wheelchair accessible. The other crew of 10 and two adult crew leaders took a different path to a rock bridge they were constructing across a small stream bed surrounded by wildflowers and aspen trees. Three went in search of large rocks to brace the bridge. Others fetched gravel, tamped it down and raked it even.
Every so often, the two adult leaders paused the youngsters’ work for a few minutes of lessons.
A rock bar is designed to work better than a shovel when digging rocks, said education mentor Comfrey Jacobs as he held a shovel with a handle that had been broken in two by an ambitious worker.
The lessons continued: The rock bridge will let the water through when it rains because of the material with which it was being built. Can you see where the gravel surface is uneven, and how do we fix that?
In less than two hours, the kids finished the rock bridge and headed for Sunset Lake to rejoin the members of the other crew for lunch.
They spent the rest of the afternoon fishing and splashing in the frigid Grand Mesa water.
The children are very aware of the Americorps higher education awards they are earning as part of the program. Some dream big. Others are more practical.
Wrapped in a towel, 12-year-old Luken Blair sat on a warm rock in wet swim trunks after a chilly dip in Sunset Lake.
“I want to go to Notre Dame and hopefully play professional football,” Luken said through chattering teeth. A few moments later, he waded back into the water to rescue a floating baseball cap for a fellow crew member.
Morgyn Staats, 14, got up at 5:20 a.m. each day to ride with her mother from their Delta home to Grand Junction, where she met her Learn and Serve crew at 8 a.m.
“I usually don’t go outside. I’m an indoor person, but this is fun,” Morgyn said.
When she gets to college, Morgyn plans to major in architecture. “There’s a $500 scholarship, and at the college I go to I can get books and stuff,” she said. “I really want to go to the University of Arizona.”
Caleb Babcock, 11, said the program is a lot of hard work but he likes it.
The Independence Academy sixth-grader could have done without the insects, though. “The bugs — that’s the only bad part of being up here,” he said of Grand Mesa.
Even at his young age, Caleb has plans for his Americorps award. He wants to go to Mesa State College and become a video game designer.
Five days after their Grand Mesa trip, Caleb and his fellow crew members hiked to the summit of Opal Hill in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. The 10 youngsters surveyed the area and familiarized themselves with the terrain.
Once they returned to the corps’ office, they would design a snowshoe trail using their new knowledge.
But that would have to wait a few hours, until after they played a game of tag, created sun paintings on bandanas and chased grasshoppers through the brush.
Western Colorado Conservation Corps: http://www.wcccpartners.org.
Southwest Conservation Corps: http://www.sccorps.org.