Naturally: Do You Need To Step It Up A Little?

by Jim Parry


Here’s a test, and some suggestions.

Wondering if there’s enough focus on nature at your camp? I’ve cooked up a little “diagnostic.” Score how well you measure up, and take note of my advice at the end. I certainly hope you find some tongue in cheek here. After all, this is camp; I’m a real advocate for combining fun and education.

  1. How much litter adorns the camp grounds?
    1. Our camp is spotless. If I ever find any litter on the grounds, I pick two junior counselors from a line-up and have them shot.
    2. Our entire staff, including myself, is constantly on top of this and setting an example. Our program includes campers helping out. It’s a matter of pride.
    3. We try to clean things up, but it’s an endless battle. A few problem areas won’t get clean until our big volunteer day.
    4. It looks like a fast food parking lot. There is so much litter that we really can’t get it clean, so we don’t bother.
  2. How much land does your camp have? How much is wild? How much is manicured? How much is totally man made?
    1. From the outset, we are all about wilderness. Our camp would have its own zip code if anyone had ever been there. The land is so primitive that we consider it sacrilege to change clothes, shower, or step on free standing grass.
    2. We have a real reverence for the wild part of our camp land, and we take care of the grounds and keep them looking natural as well. Our buildings fit in with their surroundings.
    3. We don’t have as much wild land as I wish we did, but we make an effort to get out there when we can.
    4. If I ever see a wildflower or insect, it will be too soon. I say, pave it all, and hold camp in an air conditioned, humidity controlled plastic sphere on the 14th floor!
  3. Do you know the names of the trees that grow naturally in your area?
    1. All of our staff must pass a natural history test before they can be hired, which includes the genus and species of 25 indigenous deciduous and coniferous woody flora.
    2. I am one of the experts on our staff when it comes to names of plants around here.
    3. My job involves very little knowledge of nature. I don’t give it much thought.
    4. Do trees grow in our area?
  4. Are you a bird watcher?
    1. All my friends and I keep a dog-eared Roger Tory Peterson Guide in our back pocket. I can whistle calls for saw-whet owls and cerulean warblers.
    2. I enjoy watching birds, and know many of the common birds around camp. We have a bird feeder by the lodge.
    3. I know crows and robins, and I think I saw a cardinal the other day.
    4. My favorite bird is chicken nuggets.
  5. How often is your routine conversation about nature?
    1. The environment is everything. All the rest is just details. I am an eco-evangelist, thinking like a mountain.
    2. I love to talk about the sound of rain on a cabin roof, to share a majestic sunset, to ask a friend if they noticed the flower blooming in the meadow.
    3. My friends think it’s weird to talk about bugs and dirt, but sometimes I do it just to tease them.
    4. I saw a spider in my bathroom the other day, and I immediately activated EMS.
  6. Does your camp mission statement include any reference to the outdoors?
    1. I do solemnly swear that I will defend the earth from MP3 players and anyone who wears business clothing. I believe all children should live with bears.
    2. Now I see the secret of making the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. (Walt Whitman)
    3. Our camp’s mission should be revised.
    4. The mission of our camp is, “Every camper should drive an SUV.”
  7. Does your camp program include any nature activities?
    1. We begin with prairie restoration at 5 AM, followed by a reverent sunrise ceremony, breakfast of tofu and carrot juice, and sample aquatic invertebrates for our first class. From there we get to some real nature study.
    2. Our camp naturalist is an enthusiastic, creative leader, and the nature program is as well run as any program in camp.
    3. Campers come here for other activities than nature. We used to have a nature trail, but I don’t think anyone really uses it.
    4. We have a pretty good diesel mechanics program.
  8. Does your personal time off include outdoor activities?
    1. I live in a tree house and take all my vacations free climbing in Patagonia.
    2. I enjoy hiking, biking and paddle sports.
    3. I work long hours, but I hope to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors.
    4. I watch re-runs of “Survivor”; does that count?
  9. Does your camp’s long-range plan include increased outdoor programming?
    1. We plan to destroy all our buildings and implement a base camp in caves with barefoot trips to Siberia.
    2. We hope to add some nature study rooms and trails and include more environmental training for our staff.
    3. One of our board members is always ranting about environmental education; the rest of us are considering it.
    4. There’s more money in parasailing and brain surgery.
  10. Do you believe children should build a relationship with the natural world?
    1. Mother Nature, Aunt Gaia. Write your Senator today! Earth Liberation Now.
    2. Whatever we can do to help our youth appreciate their part in the greater environment. It begins with our example, building a sense of caring and responsibility.
    3. I just hope they catch a spark somehow. Wish I could help.
    4. Mom and Dad don’t pay for that eco-Nazi stuff.

Add your points up. What’s your score?

10-16: Run for President of the Defenders of the Earth; shave and bathe soon.
17-24: Keep up the good work! Your efforts to be deliberate and act positively are to be commended.
25-32: You are aware of possibilities, and have sincere intentions for improvement.
33-40: You may be in need of re-programming, and please, step it up a little!

Jim Parry is the outdoor education director at Collin County YMCA Adventure Camp in Anna, Texas. He can be reached at

Originally published in the 2007 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.