Twelve years old – and they’d never been on a camping trip? That was the reality for about half of the student campers before they embarked on the school district #78 overnighters at Ross Lake in the first week of June.
Seventy-eight Grade 6 students from all elementary schools in the district took part in the program, which is funded by the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission and School District #78.
Silver Creek principal, Bruce Becker spent most of the week at the group camp near the U.S. border. On Monday, June 4, he set up 13 district-owned tents with the help of local naturalist and historian Kelly Peace. Then they waited for three waves of campers to come their way.
“On Tuesday, we had 20 kids from Silver Creek, Boston Bar and Harrison,” Becker said. “On Wednesday, there were 32 from Coquihalla and Thursday, 26 from Kent.
“The weather was great,” he added. “We didn’t hit any rain – and we’ve usually had mostly good weather.
“At least half of the kids had never camped before, which is typical. Pit toilets were a new experience for some as well. And a few had never been across the border.”
Each group spent about an hour hiking the Trail of the Obelisk, most of which is in Washington State.
Before leaving for the camp, students had been prepped on essentials of hiking and trail etiquette, bear and cougar safety, equipment necessities and trip preparation.
“We wanted it to be an electronics-free trip,” said Becker, “other than taking pictures. Only a few kids brought cameras or phone/cameras, though.”
One thing they didn’t need to pack was food.
“Camp Squeah staff have come up for the past four years, preparing lunch, dinner and breakfast, then a lunch before the kids go home. It‘s all-they-can-eat, including snacks. They were very well fed,” Becker said.
With cooking and tent setup and teardown being taken care of by the adults, the kids’ only chore was washing their dishes and cleaning up.
District teaching staff and guest presenters Kelly Pearce and Natalie Worrall of Hope Mountain Centre worked the campers through four educational sessions.
“The units were Human History of the Upper Skagit Watershed, Hydroelectric Power of the Upper Skagit Watershed, Wildlife and the Riparian (riverside) Zone of the Upper Skagit Watershed,” explained Becker.
“Kelly and Natalie are engaging speakers, who connected well with the kids,” he added.
Most of the campers got to see deer wandering through the camp, and there were many wild rabbit and bird sightings.
“The first group saw a black bear,” Becker said. “It was a good distance away, on the other side of the river. It just sat down and watched us.”
With so many being first-time campers, you might think it would be hard for them to settle down for the night. Becker and his teaching colleagues have a solution for that.
“We go for a long walk along the lake bottom after dinner (the dammed lake has been draining for power production over winter), then we play games and do s’mores at the fire. 9:30 into their tents is what we try for, then lights out by 10. Lots of times, the kids are pretty tired and they crash,” he said.
“We tell them to be up by 7 in the morning but they’re always up before.
“For one girl, it was a really big deal that she could make it through the night,” added Becker. “She was really proud of herself.”
Becker gave a nod to the teachers who camped along with their students: David Parsons (Silver Creek), Dave Dunster (Harrison), Colin Watchorn (Boston Bar), Donna Gallamore (Kent) and Shaun Salloway (Coquihalla).
“Without the school, teacher and senior administration support, the program would not be able to run,” Becker said.
Now that they have had a taste of the outdoors, local students can look forward to hiking and snowshoe trips offered by Hope Secondary, in cooperation with the Fraser Cascade Mountain School, said Becker. They can also join community groups, such as the Venturer Scouts or the Canadian Army Cadets, both of which offer many outdoor adventures.