Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Robert He
Fourth- and Fifth- Graders attended the first day of a summer nature camp at Ballard Nature Center near Altamont on Tuesday, June 25.
The three-day camps, taking place from 9:00 to 12:30 P.M, happen throughout summer and are separated into age groups. They are separated as follows: one for kindergarten and first-graders, and separate ones for second- and third-graders, fourth- and fifth- graders, and sixth- and seventh- graders.
The only payment needed is a $20 registration fee. Campers are selected on a first come-first serve basis, with a maximum of 14 to 15 campers at every camp.
The 210 acres of land that comprise the center has changed considerably since Ernie Ballard, the owner of the land that the center oversees, donated it to the public. The land at the center was all previously farmland but the old habitats have since been restored.
“In 13 years, from 2000 to 2013, it’s changed so much. There are so many new habitats and so many trails,” she said.
All of this would not have been possible without the help of volunteers.
“The whole community has made it what it is,” she said.
The goal of the camps, directed by Karan Greuel and Patty Gillespie, the only employees at the nature center, is to educate children about nature. The campers would walk on trails, play educational games and take part in crafts.
The activities at the camps are also varied since many of “these children will come year after year after year,” Greuel said.
Though some campers are first-timers, there are others who have attended a camp since kindergarten. In addition, the center hosts programs not just in the summer but during spring and autumn.
Each day the camp focuses on a different topic. The topic on Tuesday, the first day, was mammals.
“We talked about the different animals and whether they were a carnivore, herbivore or an omnivore,” Greuel said.
On the same day, campers were given a picture of a mammal and had to match the picture to the respective animal’s fur and skull. The junior naturalists, as the fourth and fifth graders are called, completed the task with ease.
The topic on Wednesday was insects and Thursday’s was pollinators.
Aside from these summer camps, the center offers similar educational programs in the fall and spring.
In addition, the center “has a variety of family programs. We don’t want to just focus on kids,” Greuel said.
The best part of the camp for Greuel is knowing that she is giving children opportunities to explore nature.
“Just seeing the excitement when we find a turtle or bug and when they squeal. That makes it all worth it,” she said.