Meet nature face to face, state environmentalists say

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Capital News Service
LANSING—Are you tired of sitting in a classroom to learn about the environment? Why not go outside to touch and feel nature?
This summer, dozens of environmental and outdoor education organizations want to immerse students in their surroundings.
For example, Marquette County will have a summer camp in August. In Grand Traverse County, there’s a trip to Valley of the Giants. Kent County will open a gardening program in June.
Many such outdoor programs are run by more than 50 business, health, youth, recreational, environmental and educational groups in the state.
These groups are part of the No Child Left Inside Coalition, a national organization that said it aims to alert Congress and the public to the need for schools to devote more resources and attention to environmental education.
As a member of the coalition, Michigan 4-H Youth Development offers outdoor education programs to students in many counties.
In Marquette County, the U.P. Adventure Challenge Seekers 4-H Club runs four camps each year, one for each season.
Brian Wibby, the Michigan State University Extension educator, said the county received a $10,000 grant from MSU to purchase canoes, gear trailers, backpacking equipment and camping supplies so the children won’t worry about equipment.
Wibby said that the club, established in 2009, aims to provide opportunities for youth to experience the natural environment of the Upper Peninsula, to learn valuable skills and to promote a desire and ability to participate in life-long outdoor recreation activities.
Kathy Wright, a co-leader of the club, said, “Our next camp will be held in August at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.” The four-day program will include canoeing, camping, climbing and outdoor education.
She said past participants were excited to learn how to paddle a boat and how to pack a backpack, as well as learning more about their environment.
In Grand Traverse County, the next trip of its outdoor education program will take middle school students to the Valley of the Giants on South Manitou Island, according to Boone Scharp, the Kingsley Outdoor Adventure Club leader.
“Our club has 67 high school student members and 21 middle school student members. We have different kinds of activities every month. We do rock climbing, caving trips, trees growing and other activities,” said Boone Scharp, the club leader.
“The traditional classroom of environmental teaching makes students fall asleep, so they need to go outside to experience the environment by themselves. They can learn knowledge by their own experience,” Scharp said.
He emphasized the importance of outdoor education. “The state has training programs for everyone,” and people can make use of them.
In addition to some environmental knowledge, members of his club get a better understanding of themselves and strengthen friendships, he said.
On the club’s website, member Cody Gidner reflected that during the last year’s winter camp, he never gave up even though things got tough and stayed positive to help others who were struggling.
In Kent County, the 4-H Development Program has a Junior Master Gardener Summer Camp for 4th to 6th grade students.
Kendra Wills, the MSU Extension educator in the county, said, “The gardening program will help kids learn how to grow healthy vegetables and how to take care of plants. Also, each kid will grow his or her own fruit, vegetables or flowers.”
The 10-session program begins on June 15.
“Kids will grow their own plants at a local farm first, and we have a weekly meeting to teach them how to take care of their plants,” she said.
Each week the program teaches a different topic. It includes several field trips so participants can better connect with nature and gain more environmental knowledge.
“Kids can learn where the food comes from and the nutrients in each vegetable by their own experience,” Wills said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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