By Hanae Bettencourt, Education Associate
Last summer, Seattle Audubon embarked on a new opportunity by opening a Nature Camp location in West Seattle. Starting from scratch in a neighborhood where Seattle Audubon doesn’t have as much presence compared to other parts of the city, we experienced lower-than-expected registration numbers; this provided a different camp dynamic than we are used to at the well-established Nature Camp at Magnuson Park. The participant numbers for West Seattle Nature Camp resulted, however, in several perks. First, were able to have broader age ranges within the field groups, with siblings sometimes finding themselves together (for better or worse!). It also allowed us to have a smaller adult to child ratio, which provided everyone involved with richer and more personalized experiences.
One of these experiences proved to be quite magical. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we charter a large yellow school bus and take everyone at camp to a different park for an all-day field trip. On one particular day at West Seattle Nature Camp, we swapped the large bus for a 12-passenger van. The campers and naturalists loaded up and took a trip on the ferry to Vashon Island. The experience was already exciting for several of the campers who were taking their first ferry ride. This was followed by an un-planned discovery of a fairy forest at Burton Acres Park. The dappled sunlight shone through the trees illuminating the imaginations of the campers as they explored the park. They found small fairy houses, tiny bridges and ladders made of sticks, and carefully placed rocks, which all proved to be beyond charming for the campers; they convinced themselves that they ferry had not only taken them to a new place, but an enchanted forest full of magic. Should the naturalists have let the campers believe that the magic was real? There may be differing opinions on this, but life has a way of erasing the magic from all of our minds so why not let them have the moment?
The smaller groups also allowed the naturalists and campers to spend more quality time together. By getting to know each other more closely, the naturalists found opportunities to better tailor the week’s activities to the interests of individuals. All lunches were eaten together as a large family, and many personal stories were shared during these times. There were tales from kids about their love of camping, one participant insisting on her royal status back home in Africa, and endless stories of their close encounters with birds, bugs, and other wildlife.
The rich experiences had by the campers transferred to their parents as well. Verbal feedback from parents during drop-off and pick-up times were always glowing. Many parents told us how much fun their child was having at camp, and how much they appreciated the effort our staff was putting in to make the experience personalized and engaging. Some parents were even ecstatic about how we used the Metro bus system to get to some of our field trip locations.
One parent approached our on-site coordinator with tears in her eyes. She described the struggle of getting her son up in the morning to go to school. Coaxing him out of bed, getting breakfast in his belly, and moving him out the door had been a struggle for years, no matter the activity. She reported that after one day at Nature Camp, he was up on his own and eating breakfast as fast has he could so he could get to camp on time. Compliments really don’t get much better than that.
We are about to start another season of Nature Camp at both Magnuson Park and West Seattle, and will no doubt continue to make lasting and meaningful memories with our campers. Space is still available at our West Seattle Nature Camp, and we encourage you to give it a try.
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