ELIZABETHTON — Learning is fun and memorable for about 500 fourth-graders attending the Elizabethton/Carter County Conservation Camp this week.
Instead of stuffy classrooms, the students had the spacious outdoors of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area to learn about nature and how to keep the environment clean.
“It’s a good camp,” Hannah Whitson, a student from Harold McCormick Elementary School said. “We learned about recycling and we learned how to help Monarch butterflies by planting the right flowers.”
Hannah’s enthusiasm was shared by most of the day campers. About 300 attended the camp Tuesday and another 200 are scheduled to go through the camp today.
One of the great things about the camp is there are so many things to do and to learn the children hardly have time to be bored. The park is divided into 12 stations and the students move from one station to the next.
Because the camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., that means each station is only 20 minutes long, but there is plenty to learn in those 20 minutes.
For instance, County Agricultural Extension Agent Keith Hart taught the students about the various plants found in the forest which are good to eat, both for animals and for people. There also were stations where the children learned about soil erosion by actually getting to play in the dirt.
Gary Barriger and Kathy Landy had a station right on the bank of the Watauga River where they taught stream ecology with fish, snails, crayfish and insect larvae they had caught that morning in the river. The children appeared to love the up-close look at nature.
Everett Lydick said the river ecology station was his favorite.
“I never saw a crayfish before,” Lydick said.
The camp is sponsored by the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce. Chamber Director Felicia English said the camps had been held several years ago, but they had been discontinued. English said her predecessor, Candy Craig, brought it back last year.
English said the move to bring it back was the work of the Chamber’s Environmental Committee, which organizes the annual river clean up.
Committee Chairman John Huber said he was pleased with the results of the first day of the camp.
“I think these kids are learning a lot about the environment during this camp and I think they are interested in leaving it in as good or better condition than we passed it on to them.”
Among the organizations providing speakers for the stations were the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Resource and Conservation Service, University of Tennessee Extension Service, Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Service, Boone Watershed Partnership, city of Elizabethton, Winged Deer Park and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.