The American Camp Association (ACA) is committed to increasing understanding of and support for the value of the camp experience — especially with governmental decision makers. ACA’s core values include an important focus on environmental stewardship. When the White House called for nominations for their White House Champions of Change Award — Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders, we knew that the camp community had an abundance of leaders in this area. ACA nominated a number of camp professionals for this recognition. While none were selected for the award, a few of our nominees were honored with an invitation to the White House award event as finalists. (See photo above. White House Champions of Change finalists, from left to right: Missy and Sandy Schenk, Green River Preserve, North Carolina; Rue Mapp, Outdoor Afro, California; Tim Nielsen, Camp Sandy Cove, West Virginia. Not pictured: Michelle Bitgood, The Fowler Center, Michigan.) What follows is a testimonial from one of the attendees, Tim Nielsen. He shares his revelation that while his “traditional” camp is not focused specifically on “conservation,” it is indeed a critical element in the conservation movement.

This year I was honored to be nominated for a White House Champions of Change Award — Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders. I was invited to attend an event to honor the recipients on March 18, 2014, at the White House. It was a great pleasure to hear from the recipients of this national award. They represented fourteen unique and impactful programs from around the country. It was also a great pleasure to learn more about the Americas Great Outdoors Initiative ( from Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

I have to admit, I struggled with being nominated for this award because I don’t often think of myself as a “conservationist.” I thought that a conservationist was a person who advocates or acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife. How does that describe me? I am a camp director. I pour all my effort into transforming the lives of my campers and my staff.

Don’t misunderstand me, I marvel at the beauty of the natural world, and I love engaging in outside activities. And I am committed to introducing campers to these experiences as well. In fact, nature plays a critical role in campers’ ex-periences at my camp and our mission. It is through an experience in nature that they might engage in a process of transforming their thinking, their behaviors, their goals, their values, and their beliefs.

Then, I had an epiphany: All camp directors are conservationists!

We play a vital role in a sequence of events that lead to conservation of our nation’s parks, wildlife, and natural areas — and the “growing” of the next generation of conservation leaders. Since that day, I’ve thought about this quite a bit. I think the sequence for camps may look something like this:

  1. Introduction — We have the pleasure of introducing campers to the natural world through the programs that we run on and off our camp sites.
  2. Appreciation — Well-run outdoor experiences lead each camper to enjoy and value the environment, including an appreciation for environmental stewardship.
  3. Transformation — A healthy dose of natural world experiences can transform a child in numerous ways — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  4. Participation — Campers will gain new interests in outdoor activities while at camp that they will continue after they return home (and hopefully for their lifetime).
  5. Conservation Advocates — As the next generation grows into voters and business/political leaders, their experiences at camp and in nature will influence their decisions about the conservation and use of our public lands, natural resources, and perhaps even our camps.
  6. Preservation — The natural world is critical to the future of the camp community and to youth development. We grow leaders who preserve its value for future generations.

We are all Champions of Change, and we are all engaging the next generation of conservation leaders. Let’s be certain that our nation’s government recognizes these efforts. In the comment section at below, share your successes. Share your impact. And continue the transformative work of camp!

I invite you to join with ACA as an advocate for these issues. Help move forward the goal to increase the understanding of and support for the value of the camp experience. 

I hope that the next recipients of this award will be from within ACA member camps! For more information about this year’s Champions of Change, go to

Tim Nielsen is the director of Camp Sandy Cove in High View, West Virginia, and the chair of ACA, Keystone’s Local Council of Leaders.