Experiencing the Outdoors at Brantwood Camp
By Amy E. Willey, Executive Director
The following article was featured in the August 19, 2008 edition of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. The piece was part of a discussion of the No Child Left Inside movement and what some area organizations are doing to help connect kids and nature.
I will never forget the night that the disconnect between the natural world and children first became apparent to me. I was standing on a field at Brantwood Camp with a group of 11- and 12-year-old inner-city boys. We had been talking about shooting stars earlier that day and these campers asked if we could look for some that evening. As we stood there together in the dark, gazing up at the sky, a low flying jet headed for Manchester Airport passed over with engines roaring and lights flashing. As the jet was passing overhead, one of the boys looked at me and eagerly asked, “Was that a shooting star?"
Opportunities to create intentional moments like these where inner-city campers can observe, learn about, and connect with nature are endless at Brantwood Camp. In 2008, Brantwood initiated three projects: conducting a Natural Resource Inventory, designing and building an educational trail system, and creating a wilderness campsite with the goal of helping campers experience the natural world around them.
The 11- to 15-year-old boys and girls who attend Brantwood Camp are primarily from inner-city and low-income families. Before coming to the Monadnock Region for their 2-week summer camp session many of them have never seen a night sky without the interference of streetlights, trees that are not part of a park plan, or a bright sunset that reflects on the clouds and spreads across the sky for miles. They are awed by the beauty that surrounds them here at Camp, but they also have a tangible fear about the “things in the woods". I have witnessed hundreds of instances where a camper encounters some kind of creature in the woods, be it a snake, mouse, chipmunk, or spider, and their first reaction is to either to try and kill it or run away screaming.
So to begin the process of creating opportunities to experience nature, Brantwood Camp partnered with a graduate student from Antioch University in Keene to conduct a Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) of the 350 acres owned by the Camp. The NRI provided Brantwood with a series of color maps that provide information about the terrain, elevations, resources, and habitat areas found on the property. The student also provided Brantwood with a complete species list of the birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals that are likely to be found in each of the habitats.
Based on the information provided in the NRI maps, Brantwood has planned an educational trail system that interconnects the various habitat areas. This spring, several Brantwood staff members arrived early at Camp to work on the first stage of the trail development.
The priority for 2008 was to create access to the Camp’s 30-acre beaver pond habitat. Walking around the edge of our beaver pond with a group of campers who have never seen anything like that in their lives is an amazing experience. Initially many have no idea of what they are looking at. I have heard campers ask, “Is this one of those rain forests that got cut down?" or “Why did you guys wreck these trees?".
The third project Brantwood has undertaken this summer is the building of a wilderness campsite. The Monadnock Rotary Club was instrumental in the creation of the campsite. Rotary members provided the labor and funds to build the tent platforms and purchase tents and they cut the trail to access the site. The campsite provides a place for some of our older campers to spend a night in the backwoods, enjoying an even more rustic experience than they have during their traditional evening at Camp. Campers who have spent a night at the campsite this summer have raved about how awesome it was to just be “out there with all the nature and stuff."
Recently, on a walk around the beaver pond, a few campers and I heard a bullfrog croaking in the distance and a camper asked, “Is that a porcupine?" We took this window of opportunity to talk about frogs for a few minutes.
Nature lessons and trails are certainly not a new idea at Brantwood, but we seem to be living in a time when children need more encouragement and guidance than ever in order to understand and find wonder in the workings of the natural world.