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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Information and Education Programs - North Dakota Eco-Ed Camps: Thousands of Students Have Fun While Learning

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Greg Sandness
North Dakota NPS Pollution Management Coordinator

Can you imagine taking 100 sixth-grade students camping overnight and having no problems finding adult volunteers to come along? Students are expected to play in the mud, chew on wildflower roots, canoe in the creek, locate and identify things like deer and bird droppings, and get utterly dirty and wet. And they love it!

Nine years ago, the Barnes County Soil Conservation District (SCD) in North Dakota began a program using an EPA section 319 grant as the basis for improving the format of the county's conservation tour. Five topics of study were identified, and every Eco-Ed Camp must address them—prairie/grasslands, soils, wetlands, woodlands, and water quality. All of the subjects are covered in relation to water and its importance. A session on water safety is also required before the students may canoe.

In addition to the required material, the camps feature scavenger hunts, canoeing, Native American presentations, live birds like eagles and falcons, live bugs (cockroaches, spiders, and others), characters like Teddy Roosevelt and Sam Ting, artifacts, mountain men, campfires and guitar sing-a-longs, nature walks, flint fires, water relays, recycling demonstrations, and more.

The schedule has been revised to accommodate 1-day tours; however, most students, teachers, and chaperones prefer the 2-day format if facilities are available. The longer format provides students with a diversified, hands-on learning experience. Students are immediately able to relate the five topics to the environment as they function in it. Teachers use the material and experiences as a basis for their earth science classes when they return to their classrooms.

In 1997 the Barnes County SCD received additional section 319 funding to develop Eco-Ed Camps in coordination with any SCD in North Dakota. This effort is referred to as the Statewide Eco-Ed Program. It was projected that 20 to 25 camps would be developed within the first 5 years of the grant. In the first season (fall 1997), 11 new counties joined the program (conducting eight 1-day tours and three 2-day camps). A total of 1,418 students, about 200 parents and chaperones, and 65 classroom teachers participated. In the 9 years Barnes County has conducted the Eco-Ed Camps, more than 2,000 Barnes County students have attended the camps. Those first alumni are now 20 years old and living in all parts of the country. It is gratifying to know that these young adults have the education to understand ecology and the importance of water quality.

To date some 12,000 students have attended an Eco-Ed tour or camp in North Dakota. As one former student put it, "I had so much fun at camp that I was surprised that I actually learned something!"

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