Campers find fun in the great outdoors

Outpost program's camping trip reinforces lessons learned about eco-friendly behavior


Working in pairs, a group of youths entered the Yak Shack, removed a dozen green, purple, blue and red 8-foot kayaks and turned each upside-down to empty any water.

With a strap in each hand, they carried the boats up a dirt trail and loaded them into a trailer, packing them tightly to ensure their cargo remained in place.

The next day, the eight campers traveled from their day camp in Sykesville to the Monocacy River near Detour. For the next couple of hours, they ventured downstream, confronted class-one rapids, spotted a bald eagle and ate their lunches in their kayaks on a riverbank.

Their expedition was part of the Outpost program at the Piney Run Nature Camp, a weeklong session for rising eighth and ninth graders that mixes games and long hikes in the sweltering heat with cool-down periods in kayaks and canoes on nearby Piney Run Lake.

Over their five days at the camp, the children participated in activities that developed group bonding and leadership skills while their counselors accentuated the camp's theme of environmental awareness.

"The whole purpose of the camp is to educate the kids on the environment and what they can do to keep it intact and to preserve it and basically how to function within the environment and how to not damage it," said Amber Gligonic, the camp director.

Each of the camp's seven age groups - from rising first-graders to rising eighth- and ninth-graders - have different nature themes, including plant life, freshwater habitats and conservation.

A majority of the campers return each year, so by the time they reach the Outpost program they have a better understanding of ecology and preservation, Gligonic said.

"We've learned that it really does help to be aware of what you do to the environment and [to] be careful," said Domenic Bello, 13, of Sykesville. "The little things can make a huge difference."

With Piney Run Park as their classroom, Outpost campers learn basic outdoor survival skills and discuss the interaction between humans, animals and the environment.

Some sessions develop conservation projects, such as one where campers recently set up containers for collecting and recycling plastic bottles.

"[It's] just a realization that it's not better or worse that human beings are here," said Phil Grapes, 20, of Sykesville, the senior counselor who guides the Outpost campers. "[They] try to understand how we [can] make a difference."

After their kayaking trip, most Outpost groups finish their sessions with an overnight campout at Piney Run.

"It's definitely a highlight for them," Gligonic said. "They really look forward to it, and they have a really good time."

Tori MacGregor, who has attended the nature camp for six years with her twin sister Rachel, looked forward to the overnight stay.

"You get to see what [the park] is like at night," said Tori, 12, of Eldersburg. "You get to see some nocturnal animals, and you get to hang out with your friends."

After finishing his session with a night of dodgeball, s'mores and Italian sausage cooked in a Dutch oven, Domenic said he had "definitely made some new friends through the camp."

"That really kind of bonded us together," Domenic said. "It teaches you how to be more sociable with people if you're shy. Camping out with them, you learn a lot more stuff about them."

Domenic, Tori and Rachel hope to return to the nature camp next year.

"This is officially my favorite place in the world to go," Tori said. "I wait all year to go here. It's really cool here. It's so beautiful, and it's so wonderful to learn about nature and why we need to preserve it."

The Piney Run Nature Camp runs through Aug. 4. Information: 410-795-6043.

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