In 1927, naturalist Esther Stephenson organized Cincinnati Parks’ first summer camp. Cincinnati naturalists say that Stephenson, an early advocate of environmentalism and the outdoors, would carry large signs on the bus to advertise her day camp while on her way to work.
Today, Cincinnati Parks’ summer camp program gives children ages 3-13 chances to learn about nature and explore the outdoors. The 19 different camps, which run from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., are now open for registration online and include five days of outdoor activities and planned lessons from nature specialists.
“Kids spend so much time playing video games or surfing the Internet—those things keep them inside,” says Ruthann Spears, manager of Cincinnati Parks’ Explore Nature division. “We want to show them that getting muddy is OK.”
Through their program, Cincinnati Parks naturalists hope to engender a sense of curiosity in their campers. Their goal is to get children and adults outside to explore Cincinnati’s parks on a regular basis.
“We want to shows kids that being outside isn’t scary,” says Spears. “We want to give them a chance to connect with the outdoors and instill in them a love of nature that they’ll share with parents and friends when they get home.”
Cincinnati’s park system--what Spears calls “everyone’s backyard”— comprises 70 neighborhood parks in locations ranging from Mt. Washington to Mt. Airy. Cincinnati Parks’ summer program offers camps in more than 10 of the 70 Cincinnati parks.
In 2009, summer camp employees served more than 5,400 children from all 52 Cincinnati neighborhoods.
But camp isn’t just for kids: Last year’s biggest success was Grand! Camp, an outdoor bonding experience in Ault Park for young children and their grandparents. The camp premiered last year, and sold out within the first few weeks of registration.
Spears says the most popular camps in the program are the Astronomy Camp in Burnett Woods, the Grand! Camp and the Nature Camps in Ault, French and Stanberry Parks.
Following the path of Esther Stephenson, Cincinnati Parks naturalists look forward to another summer of outdoor learning. Spears, who wishes she could sign up for camp herself, says reconnecting with nature helps people to connect with themselves and each other.
“We should be outdoors most of the time,” she says. “That’s just how we were built.”
: your child for one of Cincinnati Parks’ summer camps.
: Cincinnati Parks on Facebook.•
: any of the area's parks.
By Jen Saltsman