Learning Outside the Classroom at New Mexico Forestry Camp
Where can a student spend all day with teachers, but have much more fun than in school? At New Mexico Forestry Camp! This six-day, residential, outdoor workshop for 13- to 17-year-olds is a great way for youth to learn about how New Mexicans use, care for, and appreciate the natural and cultural resources on their public lands. In early June each year, approximately 40 young campers attend New Mexico Forestry Camp. Forestry Camp is held at Rancho del Chaparral camp in the Jemez Mountains near Cuba, New Mexico. The 1,200-acre camp, located along the Rio de las Vacas, provides an ideal setting, with beautiful ponderosa pine, aspen, oak, and mixed conifer forests.
Forestry Camp is the brainchild of Betty-Jane Curry and Peggy Ohler, who are members of the Cuba Soil and Water Conservation District. Both women had observed that young people tended to come to emotional conclusions about such topics as range management and stream health, rather than basing their determinations on scientific facts. Betty-Jane and Peggy decided that some type of resource camp — where students could gain firsthand knowledge about appropriate resource decisions from the public land managers and community agencies entrusted with such decisions — would help students’ understanding immensely. Betty-Jane and Peggy contacted friends within the Bureau of Land Management, the New Mexico State Forestry Division, the USDA Forest Service, and other agencies to develop a program around understanding the “how and why” of resource management decisions. The first camp, held in 1990, was a huge success, and there has been a Forestry Camp almost every year since. Camp did not occur in 1996 and 2000 because of the extreme fire danger in the Jemez Mountains during the first week in June.
An In-depth Look at Camp Life
Campers arrive at Forestry Camp on Sunday afternoon. For some, this is their first experience away from home, family, and friends. For others, it is their first experience sleeping in a platform-tent shared by other campers. Campers spend Sunday orienting to camp life. They meet new friends, counselors, and staff. Many of the counselors are teachers who help campers gain the most from their time at the camp; however, many of these teachers learn as much as, if not more than, the campers themselves.
Counselors arrive on Saturday before camp for orientation, to review the program, and to develop first evening’s campfire. The campfire usually involves a skit about rules, responsibilities, and what is expected of campers while at camp.
Each morning campers are responsible for chores. When chores are completed, a hearty breakfast is served. It is amazing to see the amounts of food these young people can eat! Monday morning is spent with resource professionals.
Campers quickly discover that evenings in the Jemez Mountains are cold. That chilly lesson stays with them for the rest of the week. A few years ago, for example, three young male campers learned a lesson in thermodynamics the hard way. Campers are allowed to use solar showers, although regular camp shower facilities are available. These young campers dutifully set their full shower bags in the sun, but instead of using the solar-heated water at the end of the day, they announced that they would wait and take nice, hot showers in the morning. The counselors and staff grinned, but allowed the “lesson” to continue. Naturally, the campers’ “solar showers” were more of a “cold slap in the face” by the next morning. No amount of lecturing by the counselors could have provided a better lesson.
On Monday afternoon, the counselors take the campers on the same four-mile hike the counselors completed with Forestry Camp staff on the Saturday before. After 1999’s camp, counselor Kelly Deane of Belen Middle School remarked, “I learned more about the environment and vegetation on the hike because I had to keep ahead of the kids.” The hike follows a creek and some game trails, but also requires cross-country travel. Campers are encouraged to use the map and compass skills they learned earlier that morning. Some counselors feign getting lost just to encourage campers to use these skills, but everyone makes it back in time for dinner.
On Tuesday, campers spend most of the day with resource professionals, who provide hands-on activities and facilitate learning experiences on topics ranging from stream ecology to law enforcement. On Tuesday campers also start to practice for the “conclave competition,” a series of activities related to old logging competitions. Forestry Camp conclave events include an identification table, cross-cut saw competition, compass skills course, squirrel run, match splitting, and a hatchet throw. The finals for these competitions take place on Thursday.
Wednesday is the off-site field trip, designed to allow campers to experience other environments. “I thought the kids enjoyed the field trip. It’s fun to go to different places each year,” said Laurie Hinman, a counselor. In 1999, campers measured and marked the forest around the Rancho del Chaparral Girl Scout Camp so that a contractor could come in, take the marked trees, and generate a fire buffer around a portion of camp.
On Thursday, campers spend the day with a resource professional of their choice, to get an in-depth view of a natural or cultural resource career. In 1999, camper Josh Fleming spent his day with the archaeologists from the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division. “I didn't know archaeologists could get this dirty, or that they worked with such small tools,” observed Josh. These professionals discuss career choices, education, and experience when making resource management decisions.
Agency representatives and managers arrive on Thursday evening for a barbeque, the conclave competition, and entertainment. The meat for this feast is slow-roasted on-site from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday evening, driving everyone crazy with its wonderful smells. Campers participate in the finals for the conclave competition as agency folks cheer them on.
Other evenings during the week are spent processing the events of the day or taking part in evening programs, such as on "Bats of New Mexico." The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish demonstrates a poaching scenario, which always elicits a great laugh when the “bad guys” get caught. The campers really enjoy sitting around the campfire as cowboys sing songs or recite poetry. Each night, campers are treated to a snack after the campfire.
On Friday morning, campers participate in the “Natural Resource Bowl.” Designed much like the game show “Jeopardy,” this quiz-style competition provides an excellent review and evaluation of what they learned at camp. Questions come from presenters who have worked with the campers during the week. Campers really seem to enjoy this part of Forestry Camp. Winning teams receive prizes such as water bottles, candy, snacks, field guide books, flashlights, or mugs. Parents who come early to pick up the campers enjoy watching the game.
The Cuba Soil and Water Conservation District is the main sponsor for New Mexico Forestry Camp. Additional sponsors are: the Chaparral Girl Scout Council, New Mexico State Forestry, USDA Forest Service, City of Farmington Museums, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service, Bureau of Land Management, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, City of Albuquerque Open Space Division, Society of American Foresters, National Park Service, and New Mexico Department of Agriculture.
To attend Forestry Camp in early June each year, complete the application or
contact Jean Szymanski
by e-mail at email@example.com or
by telephone at (505) 842-3325.
If you’re interested in being a counselor at New Mexico Forestry
Camp, complete the application or contact
Marsha Hagerdon by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (505) 287-8833.