Teaching Campers to be Stewards of the Environment

by Ben Lawhon

1861 — The Gunnery Camp is founded — The Gunnery Camp is considered the first organized American camp. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail operated a home school for boys in Washington, Connecticut. In 1861, they took the whole school on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful that the Gunns continued the tradition for twelve years.

For more than 140 years, since the Gunnery Camp was founded, the tradition of camps in America has grown exponentially. The American Camp Association (ACA) estimates that nearly three million children attend ACA camps each year. That is a lot of footprints, campsites, campfires, and potentially a significant impact to the land. However, it also presents one of the greatest opportunities ever to teach the youth of today how to be stewards of the environment and guarantee the future protection of the natural areas we all cherish.

Leave No Trace is a cooperative education program that teaches outdoor enthusiasts how to protect the places they love. It is not about rules and regulations. The principles of Leave No Trace originated out of a need to protect backcountry and wilderness areas from human-caused recreational impacts.

The Leave No Trace program is managed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (the Center), based in Boulder, Colorado. The mission of the Center is to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation through education, research, and partnerships. The Center is the headquarters for the national education and training program and unites land management agencies, manufacturers, outdoor retailers, media, conservation groups, recreation groups, organizations, clubs, outdoor educators, and individuals who share a commitment to maintaining, preserving, and protecting our lands.

Leave No Trace information is rooted in scientific studies and common sense. The message is framed under Seven Principles:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

However, the application of this educational program extends far beyond these areas. From attending trainings to utilizing educational and training resources to simply teaching campers about the environment, Leave No Trace offers a variety of programs specifically geared to youth — whether they are on a day hike at camp or a month-long mountaineering expedition.

Reaching Out to Kids — The PEAK Program

The PEAK program, based on the seven Leave No Trace principles, aims to teach minimum-impact, outdoor skills to children between the ages of six and twelve. Incorporating elements of experiential and environmental education, the program includes four lessons — each with activities designed for different age groups.

Components of the PEAK program feature a variety of fun and colorful illustrated characters, such as Trek & Track (pair of hiking boots), Zoom (binoculars), Digger (shovel), Flash (camera), Pointer (compass), Sparks (camp stove) and Pitch (tent). Coupled with hands-on activities and interactive games, the program engages children with important environmental messages in an entertaining manner.

The primary educational tool for the PEAK program is the PEAK Day Pack, an easy-to-use resource for educating children. The PEAK Day Pack contains four fun activities, including teaching tips and support materials, which can each be delivered in thirty to sixty minutes. The PEAK program provides an easy way to help campers become more environmentally aware.

The PEAK program has three primary goals:

  • Increase children's awareness of Leave No Trace.
  • Promote the stewardship of public lands.
  • Meet the demands of diverse youth populations.

Intended learning outcomes of the PEAK program are to:

  • Develop a sense of stewardship for the natural world.
  • Understand how to be safe and prepared for adventures in the outdoors.
  • Understand how to minimize impact on the environment when recreating.
  • Be able to make responsible decisions about impacts during outdoor activities.
  • Share the message of Leave No Trace with others.

Learning and Teaching Environmental Awareness

One poorly located campsite or campfire may have little significance, but thousands of such instances can seriously degrade natural resources and recreation experiences. Camp is the ideal setting to teach campers to protect natural resources, take the responsibility to educate others, and practice the skills and ethics necessary to preserve the environment.

The Leave No Trace program serves as one tool camp staff can use to teach essential environmental ethics. Its courses function like a pyramid. Master Courses are at the top of the pyramid, and train people to become comprehensive Leave No Trace educators, known as Master Educators. Master Educators, in turn, teach the second level, the Trainer Course, to people who become Leave No Trace Trainers. Trainers are then able to conduct the third level of training called Awareness Workshops, which are designed for the general public (including youth) to promote the environmental stewardship principles of Leave No Trace. Through this structure, camp staff and even campers can easily be trained.

Course Descriptions

Master Educator Courses
A Master Educator Course is typically five days in length and designed for people who are actively teaching others outdoor skills or providing recreation information to the public. Currently, there are sixteen hundred Leave No Trace Master Educators worldwide representing nine countries and forty-five U.S. states. The Master Course is a great option for training camp staff as Leave No Trace Trainers — e.g., send one staff member to a Master Course and then have them train the rest of the staff as Leave No Trace Trainers.

Trainer Courses
Leave No Trace Trainer courses are typically two-day trainings facilitated in an outdoor setting by Master Educators. Trainer courses are designed to help participants better understand and teach Leave No Trace skills and ethics. This level of training is most appropriate for camp staff and older campers.

Awareness Workshops
Awareness Workshops involve any type of Leave No Trace training that is one-day or less in length. These presentations can be thirty-minute chats about the Leave No Trace principles or full-day workshops. Because these workshops can be offered by Master Educators, Trainers, or anyone who is well-versed in Leave No Trace, they are an excellent option for campers or even camp staff. Additionally, Awareness Workshops can easily be tailored to meet camp-specific needs, regardless of where the camp is located or what kinds of activities the camp offers.

Traveling Trainers Visit Camps

The Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer program is in its sixth year of operation. This unique program involves two teams of professional outdoor educators, the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers, who have educated millions of individuals nationwide. With one team traveling the West Coast and one team traveling the East the Traveling Trainers are able to bring training, education, and outreach right to camp. The teams visit a variety of venues including outdoor retail stores, national parks and forests, day camps, elementary/middle/high schools, and festivals like National Public Lands Day. Generally, visits from the Traveling Trainers are free of charge and involve fun, interactive, hands-on learning. The teams are able to provide many types of outreach and custom tailor their presentations to the unique needs of each audience.

Moving Forward

The youth of today are the environmental stewards of tomorrow. Camps' ability to promote sound environmental stewardship is far reaching, whether the camp is a day, resident, offsite, or onsite program. Programs such as Leave No Trace, which promotes responsible outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship, and the ACA's Outdoor Living Skills program, which teaches participants the skills to live comfortably and responsibly in the outdoors, are the vehicles that can be used to create a lasting impact on youth served by camps. By teaching children the environmental conservation message now, we can collectively ensure enjoyment, respect, and protection of our shared recreational resources and the natural lands we all value.

Ben Lawhon, a natural resources management graduate of the University of Tennessee, joined the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics staff in May 2001, where he serves as the education director. His current responsibilities include curriculum development, management of national education and training programs, and coordinating general outreach efforts. For information on training and education opportunities for Leave No Trace, please visit www.lnt.org/training/index.html.

Originally published in the 2005 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.

 

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