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May 2011 cover image Birding's Hidden Treasures

Camp Wild

Kids learn about the outdoors at Palmetto State Park.

By Cynthia Walker Pickens

Looking for new ways to get your kids outside? Palmetto State Park actively engages children with nature through its Wild Outdoor Adventure and Ecology Program, a day camp for 8- to 12-year-olds that runs the first two weeks of June each summer.

The program began as an ecology camp, says park Superintendent Todd Imboden, but has evolved over time with the addition of arts and crafts and fun outdoor activities. Each day, kids hike and identify plants, have an ecology lesson, cook over a fire and swim in either the San Marcos River (which runs through the park) or the park’s 4-acre oxbow lake. Ecology lessons cover such topics as the river and water quality. Kids participate in a different major activity each day: archery, fishing, canoeing or laser-shot hunting.

Allison Marrow, a Luling High School math teacher with a degree in math and biology, has directed the camp for six years. Her goal is to provide outdoor activities that will pique kids’ interest and educate them on nature and the environment while teaching “responsibility for nature.”

Marrow says the kids love to fish, and enjoy using dip nets to see what turns up and examining fish scales with low-power magnifying lenses. Nature-oriented craft activities vary depending on what supplies Marrow and her assistant Kelli Hickman (also a certified teacher) can find. Of course, kids get to cook the old campfire standby — s’mores!

Camp directors also teach outdoor safety skills, Marrow says, such as identification of venomous and nonvenomous snakes, as well as poison ivy and poison oak.

In short, Marrow says they try to teach “outdoor skills that have become a lost art to the average child.”

Teachers, high school aides, two or three park workers and the park’s summer intern supervise the campers at all times. All kids wear life jackets when swimming, Imboden says.

“I think it’s a well-rounded camp, and the kids learn a lot from it. They seem to enjoy it,” says Marrow. “I wish more kids were aware that the camp took place and had the opportunity to attend.”

Friends of Palmetto State Park started the program about 12 years ago to raise money for cabin construction in the park (park staff run the camp, with funding provided by the Friends group). Using camp fee proceeds of $13,714 from the Friends and less than $8,000 in park money, Imboden oversaw construction of the first cabin in 2010. It is now available for rent. He says the camp will continue passing on outdoor skills and generating money for cabins (plans call for three or four more).

Palmetto State Park is located about 8 miles southeast of Luling. The 270-acre park, named for the dwarf palmettos that grow around its ephemeral swamp, opened in 1936. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the stone buildings scattered throughout the park in the 1930s. In fact, campers meet each morning in the CCC-built Refectory, a covered picnic pavilion with a kitchen and a rock patio overlooking the river.

For more information about the camp and park, visit the park’s website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/palmetto
or call 830-672-3266. The camp fee of $99 for one week or $179 for both covers all program materials and camp T-shirt. Enrollment is limited to 36 kids per week, and Imboden says the camp fills up every year.

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