Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
Surrounded by a grove of trees that strike the average eye to look out-of-place, campers gather to learn skills at Douglas-Hart Nature Center that prepare them for threatening situations in the wilderness. The center of the camp is placed near a preserve that houses Illinois wildlife, despite the vast stretch of crops and fields that surround it. Both natural vegetation and animals inhabit the man-made forest.
Children enjoy the beauty of this man-made forest during a weeklong “Tribal Camp” at the nature center from June 26-30.
Beginning Monday, campers aged 8-12 engage in a “survival camp” taught by Charleston High School science teacher Charlie Jaques. According to Jaques, “this camp is really fun because it’s like ‘survivor’ and encourages friendly competitiveness.”
Camper Kendall Holtzhouser agreed with Jaques as she explained that the camp teaches her team bonding and cooperation.
At the day camp, children not only gain new skills for camping and survival, but they make new friends. Ten-year-old Peyton Walker from Charleston, IL said that her favorite part of the camp is “making new friends.” This appreciation for camp friendships was echoed by nine-year-old Baylee Lowe as she explained that her favorite part of camp is “walking with my friends and seeing all the wilderness.”
Some campers, however, have known one another for years. Lorelei Warren and Izzy Hilligoss shared that they have known each other from other camps at the nature center. Both returning campers have been with the center’s camp program for more than two years and plan to return in the future.
When asked about the new skills acquired at the camp, Warren explained that “we learn about things we can use safety-wise when camping.” Warren added that she has used these skills before while camping at Fox Ridge campsite.
Education Director Jennifer Tariq explained that the nature camps are so important in getting kids outside. With all the new technology, Tariq believes that “we need to find a healthy balance of getting (children) back outside.” The Tribal Camp accomplishes this goal by “connecting (campers) with nature.”
Camper Kendall Holtzhouser elaborated on this connection with the outdoors. “I do this camp because I really like nature. It’s my away place where I can just really think,” Holtzhouser said. “I just really like being here.”
It is evident by many campers’ opinions that Tribal Camp is a “bonding” and “cooperative” enviornment where everyone feels at home. As Volunteer Coordinator Dakota Radford said, “it’s like ‘Survivor’ without being kicked off the island.”