By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Between the SCUBA lesson, night hikes, canoeing and bowfishing, the Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture camp was packed full of fun and adventure for young nature lovers.
The camp, which is run by the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture at Mississippi State University in partnership with the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, aims to teach children about conservation and inspire a passion for the outdoors.
“We try to combine content with high-interest sports. For example, we try to connect water quality with water sports,” said John Guyton, an extension faculty member with the department. The campers learned about various species of insects that are commonly found around clean water. They were also given the opportunity to bowfish. “While they’re bowfishing, they realize that you can’t see fish below murky water. And, all of the sudden, they are really wanting clean water. To get youth all the way to the point where they really have a driving, personal interest in clean water is virtually impossible with the other techniques we commonly use. I’ve been working on this for 20 years. Well, you’ve got to find something that is meaningful to the campers.”
The camp gives the children the opportunity to try many new activities that they may never have been exposed to before, while teaching them valuable lessons. The counselors don’t just talk to them about conservation and wildlife, but allow the campers to see for themselves why it’s important.
“One of the best things is that you’ll see their confidence grow because there are things that they haven’t done, or even some things that they don’t want to do,” said Henry Sansing, manager of the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge.
During the camp, the children can also receive certification in hunting education and boat safety. They learned about ethical hunting and how to shoot a variety of guns.
“My son is very active, but he doesn’t necessarily prefer sports. But he is always outside, he’s very outdoorsy. He’s a hunter, a fisher and he likes to go out in the woods,” said Sissy Almond, whose son Daniel participated in the camp. “And he’s at the age where he needs his hunters education certificate. He has had a great week. He said he will definitely be back next year.”
For Cathy Myers, it offered her son Jonathan the chance to see the university and the ways his passions could become a career.
“Any time I’ve had an opportunity to put my kids in a college atmosphere, whether it was a ball game or a camp like this, I did,” she said. “Because, college is an expectation, and I’m just trying to say, it could be really cool, but you’ve got to work for it.”
But for the campers, it was all about the fun activities.
“I love nature, and bugs, and wildlife and stuff,” said Abbey Conway,10. She dreams of one day being a biologist. “It’s been very fun, and I’ve met a lot of nice people. They have a lot of people who are the best in the southeast for what they do here.”
“Conservation awareness of our resources is something that we really need to teach our youth today,” Sansing said. “We see some of them come back as repeat campers. And as these youth grow up they look at natural resources as a possible profession, and some of them come back to us at the refuge.”
The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture will host two more camps this summer, open to anyone over the age of 10. This week, it’s “Bug Camp,” which has been very popular for years. The department will host another session of the Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture camp during the last week of June and still has room for a few more campers. To sign up, visit the department’s website at http://www.cfr.msstate.edu , and click on the “Intergenerational Summer Camps” tab.