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December 07, 2016
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A valley so green; Where summertime campers learn about the environment

Local sportsmen’s clubs in Sullivan County volunteer to help teach fishing skills and hunter safety, as campers learn to appreciate time-honored outdoor pursuits.
Photos courtesy of DEC

The camp’s 300 acres includes different terrains and ecosystems, providing many learning opportunities. Once a private estate and fish hatchery, Camp DeBruce was acquired in the 1940s by DEC, which converted it into a conservation education camp. From the very beginning, Camp DeBruce has had a long-standing partnership with the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs of Sullivan County, whose member/volunteers teach hunting safety and fly fishing at the camp. So many help out that the ratio of campers to volunteers is often nearly one-to-one, Caccia reported. The clubs also provide stipends and scholarships to help pay for some of the campers to attend. Sixty percent are sponsored by sportsmen’s clubs, Caccia reports.

Campers go through a series of planned programs, learning about field, forest and aquatic ecology, but 90% of the environmental learning experience is done in the field. If the campers are learning about fishing, they’re going to get their hands wet in the stream, Caccia said. “We do a lot of backdoor education, sneaking in the education part. So if we’re doing fishing classes, we ask, ‘What’s in the fish’s diet?’ or ‘Would the same bait we’re using now be good in August?’ If we’re taking a hike in the woods, it becomes a forestry lesson.” Other activities include a tour of a nearby hatchery and a hike to a waterfall.

During their stay, campers also participate in a large town-hall meeting where everyone gets together to discuss an environmental issue, including its pros and cons.

“We keep the topic to something the kids can relate to,” Caccia said. “For example, DeBruce has this famous old racetrack. It’s a half mile loop that’s always kept mowed. So we might talk about the impact of turning it back into a race track.”

College-educated counselor staff who have studied in the natural sciences, education or recreation fields, lead all activities. Counselors also have a high level of first aid and CPR training to prevent or respond to any emergency. “Our counselors get to relate their experiences with campers, and when they share their excitement, the campers get excited, too,” Caccia reported.

Camping sessions fill up early, and many campers have such a good time, they come back again. When they age out of camp for 11- to 13-year-olds, DEC offers sessions at its other camps that accept teens up to age 17. Of these older campers, Caccia says, “We ask them to hike harder, accept more challenges and to think more.”