Adventures in Exploration and Conservation:
A Day in the Life at GROW Enrichment Camp
The sun was already shining brightly as campers gathered at the drop-off point. They busied themselves around an egg carton filled with colorful plastic beads, selecting just the right ones to drop onto their twine to make the perfect friendship bracelets. Badger greeted each child warmly and helped them apply sunscreen and bug spray, chatting about the day’s upcoming events and whatever else crossed the children’s minds. Slither drew a hopscotch court with chalk and campers came over to give it a try, or to add their own chalk art to the ground.
Once everyone was checked in, the group carried lunches and bags up the road to GROW’s basecamp, passing community gardens and the natural playground and depositing their things on a covered deck. Gathering in an open field, counselors and children played good morning games and do-as-I-do name games, tossing in a silly song and another reminder to drink plenty of water throughout the day. They learned a “Go us!” cheer that they would use throughout the day to acknowledge their work to cooperate and try new things.
It was time for the group’s first hike; today they were headed to a natural spring. Allowing the children to take the lead along the trail – and keeping a close eye on the group from the rear – a counselor encouraged stragglers and focused the group’s attention on the treasures that were encountered by each camper. Climbing and jumping over rocks, children squealed as they came across salamanders and fish, spiders hiding under rocks, and a small box turtle. When the campers had explored to their heart’s content, they turned around and headed for base, noticing a giant centipede in their path and a larger turtle soaking up the sun by the lake on their way back.
Sweaty, hungry campers (a little damp from the spring) gathered on the grass and opened their lunches. Some concentrated solely on replenishing the calories lost in the morning’s games and explorations. Others chatted with each other and their counselors. Still others begged Badger to sing a silly song until he relented and serenaded them with a tune about bubblegum and pickles. Children exchanged riddles – “Cut me in half and I won’t cry, but you will. What am I? – refilled water bottles, examined bugs in the grass.
Ginger-Rose, executive director of GROW Enrichment, gathered the children together and led them into a small urban forest at the edge of the natural playground. This part of the woods is known as “Kidlandia,” and it is a child’s dream come to life. A short trail winds through the trees and opens onto a small Forest Classroom with stumps to sit on and a table in the middle – the perfect spot to place wonderful discoveries for others to see. As the week continued, that table would hold a deer antler, a large slug, countless rocks and leaves.
Ginger-Rose spoke to the campers about the importance of allowing native plants to thrive in the forest and getting rid of non-native invasive species. Campers took a walk through the woods and identified pawpaw trees, then pulled invasive plants and used them to make forts for animals to hide in. The children worked excitedly and cheerfully, laughing and running as they engaged in the important work of restoring this bit of urban forest to its original ecosystem.
This is one of the key tenets of GROW – managing the land with permaculture farming methods, allowing each area of the site to eventually become part of a larger thriving ecosystem that produces food for people and for wildlife. Permaculture creates habitats for wildlife and always seeks a balance between earth care, people care, and giving everyone and everything their fair share. This little slice of heaven at Two Rivers Park is a living laboratory and a prototype of what will hopefully become the norm in more of our parks, yards, medians, and along highways.
Badger led campers on a short walk that led them to an open field, where they set up cones and engaged in some classic camp games – Duck, Duck, Goose; Red Light, Green Light; Sharks and Minnows. Campers congratulated themselves with a rousing cheer for cooperating and having a good time together.