Conservation camp

Hikers with the Green Mountain Conservation Camp in 2017.

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After over a year of remote learning, we hear Vermont students: they are struggling. They want in-person experiences. They want experienced mentors to teach them. They want career readiness. They are looking for connection and a safe place outside of their house and COVID bubble. A study done in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Health and the University of Vermont found that youths aged 12 to 17 reported an increase in depressive symptoms and anxiety in the fall of 2020 compared to the fall of 2019. How can we get our children out of the house safely, and get them away from the stress, the screens, and the general struggle the world is experiencing?

Get them unplugged. Sign them up for a week this summer at Green Mountain Conservation Camp (GMCC), administered by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. While GMCC offers summer camp experiences for all children ages 12-14, each year seems to bring on the challenge of finding campers to fill the weeks specifically offered for girls. This rings true again for the upcoming summer sessions.

Summer camps offer plentiful positive opportunities for adolescent girls, and GMCC is no exception. A week at camp offers young girls the chance to break out of the norm and help them to discover who they are on their own terms. GMCC also offers opportunities to dive into real-world application of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts, the ability to learn in-person from mentors, the chance to develop into young leaders, the possibility of lifelong friendships, and lots more.

To solve a diversity of challenges in the world, we need a diversity of problem-solvers. For years we have heard about the call to action: get more girls involved in STEM! Here is your chance to get them involved. During their week at GMCC, campers learn about aquatic ecology, habitat restoration (science!), population dynamics (science and math!), how to shoot a bow (engineering and technology!), and lots more. And, let’s not forget all of the soft skills such as perseverance, humility, focus, and cooperation that are learned from hiking, canoeing, fishing, shelter-building, fire-building, and other outdoor skills.

Not only do girls get to have fun, but they learn in-person from real people, not a screen. Campers learn from instructors and peers alike. Many lifelong friendships come from a week at GMCC, and girls get the opportunity to see amazing women in leadership roles. It is not often that a girl sees her instructor dig her hands into the mud to talk about soil quality, but it is something memorable for so many young women. In addition, campers get to meet some incredible male role models on staff, who set the example for how women should expect to be treated in the classroom and workplace: with respect and equity.

With these mentors on staff, the campers are able to take part in a female-dominated environment that encourages them to build up and cheer on their peers. This rare opportunity allows young women to take charge without the fear of social repercussions and develop themselves as leaders. They are given formal and informal opportunities to lead throughout their time at GMCC, from encouraging peers in the background to actively coaching them through difficult tasks. Campers can take on as much or as little leadership as they want; some are content to develop these skills quietly while others are ready to lead a full camp song or skit. In either instance, girls who thrive in these areas during their basic and advanced weeks are offered the opportunity to return as a part of GMCC’s Junior Counselor (JC) program, which further develops leadership and confidence in the lives of young women.

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You may ask yourself, “How could this opportunity get any better?” Well buckle up, because the icing on the cake is that there are still LOTS of scholarships/sponsorships available, meaning the week she spends at camp could be free.

Many of us know well the phrase by famous naturalist John Muir, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” As Vermonters, we may relate to this notion of feeling the need to get outside, to unplug, to get away from our societal confines and enjoy the calm of time spent in nature. Our girls are no different. However, what many of us may not know is that the commonly quoted phrase leaves out an important ending. In a letter to his sister, John Muir says, “the mountains are calling, and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” The full statement is a testament to hard work and learning more about the natural world while learning more about yourself. I think we can all take a page out of Muir’s book and encourage the young women in our lives to do the same. Let’s do all the learning we can outside this summer; there’s no better place for it than Green Mountain Conservation Camp.

Do you know a young woman who is worth celebrating and recognizing? Sign her up for GMCC at https://vtfishandwildlife.com/node/244

Need more convincing that GMCC is the right choice? Check out this podcast episode and hear from real campers and instructors all about a week at camp: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/about-us/vermont-fish-wildlife-department-podcast

Or watch this short video that summarizes a week at camp (it is shot and edited by a junior counselor): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSLKujBBrw0

Nicole Meier is the Hunter Education Program Coordinator and Hannah Phelps is the Green Mountain Conservation Camps Coordinator. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.