Environmental Education Programs at DEC Campgrounds
"It's your first morning at the campground. Last night, you pulled in just as it was getting dark. By the time you had pitched your tent, you were exhausted. Now, sitting by the fire with your coffee, you wonder what there is to do here."
"Soon the kids will be up and looking for something exciting to do on their first day camping in the New York State Forest Preserve. You vaguely recall the booth attendant handing you a list of activities offered by the Nature Recreation Program (NRP) over the next couple of days. You find the paper on the dashboard, give it a quick look and think, "Wow! What a great selection!" Now you're sure this campground was the right choice." - Conservationist June 2001 page 13
Starting in 1935, nature-based programs have been a part of the camping experience at several of DEC's Forest Preserve campgrounds. Some offer organized, family-based activities on a daily basis during the summer season, while a few others provide educational and recreational programs only on a part-time basis.
The overall goal of the Nature Recreation Program (NRP) is to provide campground users (overnight campers or day users) educational and recreational opportunities. These opportunities are to
- be compatible with Forest Preserve management;
- heighten awareness, appreciation, and understanding of the environment;
- foster proper recreation use of the Forest Preserve and its facilities; and
- promote understanding of the Department of Environmental Conservation and its programs.
Several DEC units work together to design activities, train the staff who conduct the programs, and recruit interesting speakers. The partnership between the Bureau of Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Education has resulted in new offerings such as the Junior Naturalist Program and the Adventure Discovery Program.
A typical day in a campground with a NRP may begin with a nature hike or a canoe trip. Other activities may include fishing instruction, aquatic insect exploration, nature crafts, or environmental games. Other sessions may be related to outdoor skills like campfire cooking, orienteering, or low-impact camping. Looking at the schedule, one might also find a spirited game of volleyball or kickball, with the evening filled with a slide show, nature video, local musician, or campfire stories. Campers may even be treated to some tall tales from a local storyteller or engaged in debates on a variety of environmental topics with guest speakers. No matter how you look at it, the days are packed with fun things to do- and fun things to keep the kids occupied!
The NRP staff are well trained and enthusiastic about sharing the wonders of the outdoors with campers. Many are graduates of natural resource and environmental science college programs and return each summer to work in the NRP. In the summer of 2002, one environmental education assistant returned for her fifth season at Moffitt Beach Campground just outside of Speculator, NY. Along with the returning staff, there are always new faces who are usually college students majoring in natural resources or outdoor recreation. They gain useful experience and academic credit while being paid to provide campers with unique experiences.
Rave Reviews From Campers
"Like the variety of nature programs; please keep them!!"
"Great park, like the wilderness movies, quiet grounds, and activities!"
"Naturalist program very helpful!"
The Wilderness Times is a one page posting printed by the NRP staff. It announces daily activities and communicates program needs. This announcement also shares with the camper information that will enrich the camping experience, from management requests to community events nearby. And it is also used to give a heads-up on future activities so campers can plan accordingly. The Wilderness Times usually lists the activity and time it will take place along with a short description of the activity.
NRP Participating Facilities*
Region 3 New Paltz: Mongaup Pond
Region 4 Schenectady: North-South Lake
Region 5 Northville: Moffitt Beach, Northampton Beach
Region 5 Indian Lake: Limekiln Lake
Region 5 Warrensburg: Luzerne
Region 5 Ray Brook: Fish Creek Pond/Rollins Pond, Meacham Lake
Region 6 Potsdam: Cranberry Lake
Region 6 Herkimer: Nicks Lake
*Please note that participating facilities are subject to change. For further details contact the specific campground.
More about Campground Education:
- Junior Naturalist Program - This page contains information about the Junior Naturalist Program found at the NYSDEC Forest Preserve campgrounds.