- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) - There is a summer camp where campers climb to the top of a mountain, then descend to the shores of the sea over the course of five days.

Experience The Wild is a free day camp for 8- to 12-year-olds. It is sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association and the U.S. Forest Service.

Campers participate each day in hiking, outdoor safety and hands-on projects to learn about the forest and build skills for safe recreation in the outdoors. The camp is focused on getting outside - exploring, learning, doing and experiencing the wild.

“This is the third year we have offered the camp,” said Samantha Hale, marketing and communications manager for the trail association. “It’s funded by the Forest Service. Camps run for three consecutive weeks, so we try and mix things up for those kids who attend more than one week.”

One such kid was 9-year-old Calvin Howard. The fifth-grader at Mount Vernon’s Washington Elementary School was wrapping up his second consecutive week at the camp.

“This has been really cool,” said Howard of the camp. “It’s been so much fun. I like everything we’ve done.”

Deb Wyman, who led the camp, said kids come back year after year.

“It’s just a great camp for the kids,” Wyman said. “It’s structured just enough to go with the flow. We can change it up dependent on the kids. The kids just love it and it doesn’t matter what their background is. They all end up making friends, having a lot of fun outside and learning about nature.”

The camp’s focus was clear.

“Stewardship is what this is all about,” Hale said. “The camp is centered around this big trail. A big, big trail from the mountains to the sea. We want them to learn how it is all connected. And, of course, to gain some understanding of what we at the PNTA do and what it takes to build and maintain trails.”

On Friday, the final day of the camp, the group gathered at the Samish Overlook on the flanks of Blanchard Mountain to learn about the tools used in trail-building.

PNTA member Christian Warman unloaded numerous tools used on trails, then explained the proper and safe use of each as the group of hard hat-wearing campers looked on. Grub hoes, McLeods, rock bars, Pulaskis and shovels were passed around so campers could get a feel for what they would soon be wielding.

“You throw the brush to the downhill side,” Warman said. “We want it to look as natural as possible.”

The group then put what it learned into practice, improving a short section of the Pacific Northwest Trail.

Once on the trail, campers such as Emily Southard got to work. The La Conner third-grader was finding it a bit difficult to cut branches using the pair of loppers she’d be given. But undeterred, she managed to get the best of the stubborn branch.

“This is my first time at this camp,” she said. “I’ve been to other camps, but none like this.”

And what did Southard think about the trail-building portion of camp?

“I like to help,” she said. “I work my butt off at home and do a lot of yard work. This is like that.”

On Thursday, campers hiked the Beaver Lake Trail in Darrington and were taken on an interpretive hike by a ranger. In earlier weeks, campers climbed to the summit of Sauk Mountain and hiked along the East Baker Lake Trail.

On Wednesday, they visited Taylor Shellfish Farm.

While at the farm, campers were given a tour by Nicole Gilmore, who earned her money as rain fell and the tide was in, all but submerging the farm. She still managed to keep the kids enthralled, detailing the aspects of growing, harvesting and selling bivalves such as oysters, clams, mussels and, of course, the geoduck.

Gilmore disappeared inside a refrigerated container and returned with said geoduck. Right on cue, the mollusk spewed saltwater out the top of its elongated siphon as it attempted to cram its oversized appendages into its small shell.

Of course, the group erupted in a chorus of giggles and laughs.

As the six-pound geoduck was passed around, Gilmore said the average age of a Puget Sound geoduck is 39. The oldest on record lived to 165.

“Don’t drop it,” she said as kids fumbled to grasp the awkward sea creature. “They are expensive, weighing in at $30 per pound.”

The tour ended with a walk out to the only lighthouse in the world constructed solely of oyster shells.

The group toured the Marblemount Fish Hatchery on Tuesday, and started the week Monday at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve with a side trip to Washington Park in Anacortes.

“I love the outdoors,” Howard said. “I really like to hike. Last week, we got to climb a mountain. That was a lot of fun. I have learned so much. Now I want to get out and build trails.”


Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, https://www.skagitvalleyherald.com

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