Jasmine Bhatia, Nora Reinke, Caroline Bennett and Nick Tagliatelle (scout) prepare a meal.
Photo by Gary Pan
Camping and camp fires are strictly prohibited on the grounds of the Wolf Trap National Park. One special exception occurred the last weekend of September with the successful implementation of the First Time Camper Program pilot. The program was sponsored by the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and provided fifth and sixth grade youth an opportunity to experience camping and the outdoors at the Vienna based National Park.
In the latter part of the summer, representatives from the Wolf Trap National Park Service (Duane Erwin, Anna Hjelmroos, Will Rifenbark and Phil Goetkin), Friends of Wolf Trap (Alan Day, Mike Moran and Jack Crosby) and neighboring Great Falls Boy Scout Troop 55 (Gary, Wesley & Mitchell Pan) and Boy Scout Venturing (Inge Gedo) assembled to discuss the possibility of designing and executing a camping experience for urban youth on the grounds of Wolf Trap National Park. The vision for the program was to enable first time campers to learn to enjoy camping and the outdoors through an adventurous and fun-filled 24-hour camp out. The group determined that they should start with a pilot of local youth to make sure that the planning and logistics could be executed successfully. The NPS arranged a one-time special use permit for camping access to the park and programs. The Friends of Wolf Trap leveraged its nature and conservation programs and expertise as part of the learning experience. BSA Troop 55 provided its practical experience with large scale campouts and programming, its troop equipment, and its youth leadership volunteers to provide a structure for an educational and action packed outing that emphasized camping skills, team building, nature activities, community service and camaraderie.
Troop 55 Scoutmaster, Gary Pan, served as the Camp Director and coordinated the overall planning and logistics. Troop 55 Senior Patrol Leader, Wesley Pan, served as the lead youth volunteer and was responsible for organizing the youth volunteers and developing programming and activities for the participants. Mitchell Pan was the Lead Quartermaster and made sure that volunteers and youth learned to take proper care of the camping equipment. Participants represented nine local elementary schools: Colvin Run, Great Falls, Forestville, Spring Hill, Terraset, Wolftrap, Sunrise Valley, Masoncrest and Lake Anne. The young campers were split up into groups or “patrols” under the guidance of Boy Scout, Girl Scout and Venturing volunteers. These patrols had to work as a team to prepare and clean up three different meals using gear such as white gas stoves and charcoal Dutch ovens. Participants and volunteers utilized the BSA patrol method throughout the outing to facilitate organization and team building. Youth volunteers used the EDGE method to Explain, Demonstrate, Guide and Enable participants to safely use knives to prepare ingredients for meals; properly cook burgers and hot dogs, stews, and eggs and bacon; and thoroughly clean up after their meals. Sabrina Bell, Forestville Elementary School sixth grader, was one of the youth participants who “really loved learning how to properly clean camp dishes using the three-pot method.”
The youth volunteers instructed the campers on the importance of fire safety prior to the evening campfire where they enjoyed a guitar performance by Majorie Holsing, toasted marshmallows for s’mores, sang campfire songs and performed skits. Throughout the experience the values of responsibility and teamwork were impressed upon the youth by volunteers. Furthermore, the campers were introduced to the Scouting program, which provides these kinds of outdoor experiences for both older boys and girls through Boy, Girl and Venture Scouting. Wesley Pan commented, “Aside from camping in their own backyards, the participants probably have never had an experience quite like this; I hope this encourages them to go out and explore the outdoors and appreciate nature.”
The groomed natural beauty of the Wolf Trap National Park provided an engaging environment for young children to have a fun and safe camping experience. During the outing, campers hiked through the nature trails and gardens and set up camp in the meadow near the Theatre-in-the-Woods. Community Service included clearing brush and cleaning up trash from the trails and streams within the park. According to Great Falls Elementary School 6th grader, Kristina Okeson, “It was really fun helping to clean up a local stream and learning the importance of taking care of our environment.” Participants also helped harvest native Milkweed seeds and replanted them in a nearby meadow. Colvin Run Elementary School 6th Grader, Declan Doyle, beamed that “Monarch butterflies depend on these native plants as they make their migration so it’s important to support their habitat.” The participants even enjoyed a backstage tour of Wolf Trap’s Filene Center for the Performing Arts, a 6,800 seat indoor/outdoor theater.
Operating under a special permit, The First Time Camper Program is the only instance camping and campfires have been allowed on the grounds of Wolf Trap National Park. At the conclusion of the event, Park Superintendent Karen Pittleman remarked to the group “Thank you and congratulations. You are the first to be able to say that you camped out at Wolf Trap.” Chief Ranger Duane Erwin saw this event as an amazing collaboration of organizations that believe in sharing an appreciation for nature and investing in our youth. “I am very impressed that we were able to get this rich program pilot implemented within a six week period. The Scout and adult volunteers did a fantastic job. I think the participants really enjoyed themselves.” Apparently the youth did. Nora Reinke, 6th grade Great Falls ES, said that she “loved camping and making new friends.” Jamie Spaid, 5th grade Great Falls ES, insisted that she would go home and make eggs and bacon for her family based upon what she had learned. According to Boy Scout volunteer Corey Hodge, Langley High School Senior, “this was a great chance to use my scout and leadership skills to help youth learn to take responsibility for themselves in a safe and fun-filled environment. I would definitely do this again.” The organizing committee is already discussing more First Time Camper Program activities in the near future. For further information, please contact FirstTimeCamperProgram@gmail.com.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: www.nps.gov/wotr
Troop 55: www.bsa55.com
Friends of Wolf Trap: www.friendsofwolftrap.org
— Mitchell Pan and Grant Smith