Pathfinding: Summer Nature Camps in the Merrimack Valley and Beyond
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. ~ William Shakespeare
There was a time when it was assumed that summer camps involved getting children in touch with nature. While cello camps and computer camps and tennis camps might be good options for some, most kids would benefit by adopting the pace of the great outdoors. Letting them play, learn and grow among the creeks and pines might be more than fun — it might prove vital to their happiness and dawning sense of their relationship, or lack thereof, with the wider world.
In this year’s special camp section, we’ve highlighted four nature-based camps. Two are located within the Merrimack Valley, and two are farther afield.
Merrohawke Nature School
Newburyport, Mass. l Merrohawke.org
Merrohawke Nature School is a year-round nonprofit organization that connects children to land and sea. Fishing, tracking, building and boating are among the skills taught here. The school’s summer offerings include a weeklong Coyote Overnight program that introduces young people ages 12 and over to nighttime navigation, advanced fire making and the ability to identify poisonous plants. At Merrohawke, children as young as 4 may register for a range of earth- and sea-based programs.
“Learning in nature is what we were born to do … that’s what we were hardwired for,” says Merrohawke co-founder and Executive Director Kate Yeomans. “Our brains aren’t built to run at the speed the world is running at.” To help children slow down and develop a richer understanding of nature, they learn to fish, track wildlife, recognize the language of birds and build shelters.
“Children today are information rich and experience poor,” Yeomans says. “But the hard skills, the practical skills — knowing how to light a match, knowing how to carve something or catch a fish — those are skills that children don’t always have access to, especially with the big push for everything to be virtual.”
Before adopting a wider mission in 2013, Merrohawke began as BOAT CAMP Nature School, and its popular oceangoing programs are still offered under that name.
Corinth, Vermont l RootsVT.com
Roots School offers a variety of programs, courses and year-round workshops anchored in wilderness and earth-based living skills, including naturalist studies, tracking, carving, weaving, awareness and archery. A typical day at Roots might include tree and plant identification, gathering firewood and fire materials, cord making, and shelter building.
“The outcome that is most important to us is that the students find a way to have an authentic and more intimate engagement with the natural world,” says co-director Sarah Corrigan. “This could be through the avenue of any number of skills, such as woodworking and weaving, games of stealth and awareness. We want kids to be exposed to the many ways one can interact with the fields and forest so that they can learn more about the world.”
The Roots School offers programs to students 6 years old
Mass Audubon Camp Wildwood
Rindge, New Hampshire l MassAudubon.org
Throughout its 68-year history, Mass Audubon’s Camp Wildwood has been a leader in offering nature-focused overnight summer camp programs for children ages 9 and up, as well as leader-in-training programs. Wildwood hosts about 100 campers in each session (one or two weeks), and employs over 50 staff members.
At overnight camp, participants begin their day with an optional pre-breakfast jaunt that can include paddling, a bird walk or a polar bear swim before diving into camper-chosen activities and workshops covering topics such as wetland exploration, “Things with Wings” (a study of flight), sailing and archery.
Wildwood’s mission is to engage campers in fun outdoor programs they can use to strengthen their connection to the natural world. Welch Narron, Wildwood’s camp director since 2014, says, “After an experience at Wildwood, we intend for campers to better understand the environment around them, and to have a greater appreciation for their role in protecting it. As an overnight camp program, we also focus on building ‘21st century’ skills like resilience, confidence, and responsibility … while we offer a lot of very traditional overnight camp activities like swimming, archery, arts and crafts.”
Andover, Massachusetts l CampEvergreen.com
Nestled within Harold Parker State Forest, Camp Evergreen has maintained a firm commitment to nature-based education for 55 years and offers day camp programs for youths ages 6 and up during school vacation weeks in February and April, as well as an eight-week summer day camp program. Activities and skills offered at Camp Evergreen include animal tracking, fort-, shelter- and fire-building, ice fishing, archery, maple tapping, wild edible foraging and learning about Native American history and culture. “We’re committed to introducing our campers to nature in a way that is fun and bolsters their independence. We want them to appreciate everything we have here: the frogs, snakes, bugs, everything,” says Program Director Jim Loscutoff. “Oftentimes we think of nature as our backdrop, but we try to bring it front and center.”
Camp Evergreen also hosts birthday parties, wilderness parties and nature-based retreats year-round.