WABASSO — Twenty-five years ago the Environmental Learning Center opened its 64-acre campus with the intent to foster “active stewards of the surrounding natural resources.”
Four years later the ELC began offering summer camps in hopes of nurturing the future caretakers of our world to be conscientious ecological ambassadors.
The summer camp started out with a few programs geared toward elementary-age school children. The program was well received; most years it is completely filled before registration announcements are even posted.
The program has increased in both the number of sessions and its scope.
The ELC usually offers 20 sessions throughout the summer with 230 children ranging from pre-K through high school.
Three full-time naturalists and one part time naturalist teach the programs with the assistance of volunteers. The ELC is a volunteer-based organization and the volunteers are crucial to the success of the summer camp program.
“We take canoe trips, pontoon trips, go dip-netting in the pond, seining in the lagoon and take trips to the beach.” explains ELC Education Director Heather Stapleton. “All of these activities require as many eyes on the kids as possible in order to keep them as safe as possible.”
“Our mission has always been to inspire people to appreciate the environment, take action, and change their behaviors to more environmentally friendly ones. Summer camp is a great tool to do just that.”
Seven different programs were offered this summer, each program geared toward a specific set of age-appropriate environmental concepts.
During the early years the goal is to foster a sense of nature appreciation. Later, the program builds on that appreciation and progresses to the issues surrounding the Indian River Lagoon and how to help the environment.
Campers learn about habitats, pond life, plants, animals, insects, water safety, GPS, native and invasive species to varying degrees during their time at the ELC.
Very little time is spent sitting in the classroom looking in books, the children are out on lagoon explorations, beach excursions, scavenger hunts, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and other team building activities.
There is no shortage of places to explore both on and off campus. The Pelican Island National Wildlife Preserve, Sebastian Inlet, and the Indian River Lagoon are all nearby.
One of the current projects campers participated in during their week was the planting of mangrove trees and sea grasses on the spoil islands in the lagoon. They learned about the effects man has had on the lagoon ecosystem and learned strategies to be part of the solution instead of the problem.
To hold the interest of teens in grades 8 through 12 the ELC offered a five-day and four night camping adventure.
Campers paddled their way around the lagoon by day and camped under the stars, allowing them to get up close and personal with the unique treasures of the Indian River Lagoon.
“Research shows that repeat, positive experiences in nature influences children to grow into adults who are good stewards of the environment,” explained Stapleton. “Usually, once kids get started as campers they stick with us as campers and then later as volunteer camp counselors.”
Each spring teens vie for the opportunity to help out with the camps. Many of the “camp counselors” came up through the ranks of the ELC summer programs and enjoy sharing what they’ve learned over the years.
“The ELC continuously seeks to broaden its educational reach in the community, we feel that it’s important to touch the lives of children who don’t normally enroll in ecology programs. We had a very generous donor whom felt the same way,” said Camille Yates, ELC Development Director.
“We not only enjoy passing on ecological knowledge, but we like to see people use that knowledge and change their behavior as it relates to the environment. Children from the Boys and Girls Club of Indian River County were a perfect fit for this program. We have truely enjoyed the partnership with them, and it would not have happened without an ELC supporter underwriting the program,” she added.
To learn more about the Environmental Learning Center programs and membership opportunities, you can visit www.DiscoverELC.org or you may call 772-589-5050.