Imagine the first time you caught a frog or chased a dragonfly.
Those are experiences the Piedmont Wildlife Center aims to foster in children early while teaching them to appreciate their natural environment.
For the first time, the center is bringing its popular Durham-based youth intersession camps to Wake County this fall.
“There are people that would like to connect to nature and understand wildlife issues,” said Gail Abrams, director of the center.
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After conducting outreach programs, she recognized the need for nature camps in the Wake County area.
The center, which has provided intersession camps at its Durham location since 2009 based on the year-round school calendar, now has programs catered to the Wake County “track-out” schedule.
“Our mission is basically connecting people and nature,” Abrams said. “These camps get people experiencing nature.”
Two weeks of camp will be offered in Raleigh at Umstead State Park at the Reedy Creek entrance off of I-40, in addition to three weeks of camp at the home location in Durham off N.C. 54.
“We offer a very unique experience that most people will never have,” Abrams said. “We are one of only a few organizations in the area that take kids out and really connect them to nature firsthand.”
Mary Neese, the center’s Nature Mentor, said the Raleigh camps are designed to be and fun with many hands-on activities.
Neese said when children are in school all day they do not have an outlet to enjoy nature.
“What we’re doing is enticing people to reconnect with their natural world,” Neese said. “Before we ask people to conserve wildlife and our natural world, you have to get them to love it. When you love something, you’re motivated and driven to protect it.”
The first Raleigh camp, “Nature Explorers,” will take place Oct. 20-24. Each day of camp will focus on a different plant or animal.
“Nature Explorers is a blast. It’s a gentle introduction to our natural world with a focus on getting kids comfortable outside,” Neese said.
“The last time we offered the camp there was a box turtle laying eggs and the kids watched it for hours.”
“Slugs, Bugs and Spiders,” the second Raleigh camp, on Oct. 27-31, will focus on “creepy crawlies,” Neese said.
“We get them to look at bugs in a different way and how they all play a huge part in our local ecology.”
Neese said the camps are like hitting a reset button for the children.
“You get to unplug, go outside, take a deep breath and listen to the birds, listen to the trees sway,” she said. “It helps children reconnect to what we really need as human beings.”
Nate Swick, a summer camp counselor at PWC for the past three years, sends his 5-year-old son to its camps.
“It’s the sort of place I would send my kid to even if I weren’t professionally involved,” he said.
Swick said the most important aspect of the camp is helping kids become more comfortable being outside.
“Sometimes it feels like you have to make time to be outdoors and have some sort of agenda,” Swick said.
“There’s a great value in just being outdoors for the sake of being outdoors and letting the nature come to you.”