Summer camps connect children to nature, each other

Friday, July 13, 2018 8:50 PM

We are in the midst of summer camp season.

New friendships and memories occur on a daily basis. At the start of every camp, children’s nervousness may override excitement, but at the end of that first day, most campers have settled into the routine and have connected with their peers and counselors.

Subsequent days of camp are filled with numerous opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood – to play field games; study crawdads, praying mantises and other creatures; wade in the river; dream up a skit and perform it at the end of the week; and to connect to this wonderful world. By the end of each day, most campers return to their families worn out from playing hard outside.

All of our camps focus on themes that deepen campers’ understanding of the world in which we live. It gives us great satisfaction to see them carry away new knowledge under the guise of play. Many people think that children who grow up in Durango have an inherent knowledge of all things natural, but we interact with campers from a myriad of backgrounds. While most of our campers reside in the Four Corners, we see plenty of out-of-state visitors at our camps, too. Numerous campers experience an array of firsts on the grounds of the Nature Center – whether it’s their first hike, wading in the river or learning how to simply slow down and observe the world around them.

We have many campers who return to us for multiple summers, and we routinely bear witness to their maturation through the years. It’s particularly rewarding when we see leadership qualities emerge from our veteran campers. What once was a shy or fearful child soon becomes a leader among peers.

On the first day of camp this summer, a bull snake made an appearance at the heart of the Nature Center – Lion’s Den 2 – and counselors proudly watched as a couple of our veteran campers led their peers in a discussion about the attributes of this brave and curious reptile. In turn, children’s fear quickly turned to curiosity and excitement, and campers learned something new on that very first day.

A growing body of research shows that children are healthier – physically and emotionally – when they connect to nature. It goes both ways. Our natural world needs the future generations to understand and treasure it to protect it in years to come. Nature camps provide a pipeline for the next generation of land managers and ambassadors.

Like everyone in town, we have been impacted by the 416 Fire. Some campers were displaced from their homes during our first week’s camp, and they found some sense of normalcy through camp, despite uncertainty in their families’ lives. Smoky mornings have also proved challenging for our outdoor camp. Fortunately, our friends at Durango School District 9-R have been able to provide us access to indoor space during the mornings with poor air quality, but we are thrilled to see the rains return to the Four Corners. We have appreciated the Durango community’s resiliency and cooperation to simply do what needs to be done during an uncertain summer.

If you are looking for an enriching and memorable summer activity for your elementary or middle school child, check out the remaining camps on our website:

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at