Growing the next generation of stewards

Longtime Camp Counselor Rick Hengel, left, helps camper Jonah Ellis, second from left, get set during a fishing excursion at camp. Behind them is Andrew Cummings, while Ray Walker sits on a stump next to cousin Albert Walker. Ariana Hones photo

by Ariana Hones

Last year, no one wanted to go home.

So this year, Conservancy Camp, the offspring of the Green Lake Conservancy, is adding another day for the kids of Green Lake to explore and engage in the natural wonders of their community.

“We are howling at the moon and catching fireflies,” said Lindsie Wallenfang, executive camp director.

While Conservancy Camp has “all the good stuff you want from camp,” it also continues the legacy of land ethics that the Green Lake Conservancy has promoted for more than two decades.

Born from the desire to provide educational outreach to local youth, when Wallenfang joined the conservancy as a board member, she decided to help spearhead this now-beloved summer event.

In its third year, Conservancy Camp hosted a session for kids ages 6 to 9 from July 10 to 13 and will hold another for ages 9 to 12 from Tuesday, July 24 to Friday, July 27.

A week at Conservancy Camp includes camping at the Green Lake Conference Center, hiking, wildlife observation at the many properties the conservancy oversees, Native American history and philosophy and learning about how young people can become the next generation of land stewards.

“The first thing we do when kids arrive is talk about where we get our food from and why it is important … to think about where our food comes from,” Wallenfang said. “We get to connect our food choices to sustainable agriculture and think about the long-term affects of our choices, not just with food, but with our lifestyles.”

The four days at the Green Lake Conference Center offer a plenitude of bike rides along the Winnebago Trail, hikes through Dawson Prairie, kayaking, fishing and plenty of hootin’ and hollerin.’

“We keep camp size small to maintain that intimacy with nature,” Wallenfang said.

She also noted it’s different than the normal camp.

“At Conservancy Camp, we are more down to Earth than a typical camp,” Wallenfang said. “We want to have fun in a beautiful place, but also be able to really appreciate the beauty of the place.”

This intentional time with nature allows for a plethora of growth over the course of a few days.

“Parents are often so surprised with how much personal growth their kids go through in such a short amount of time,” Wallenfang said. “From leadership development to building self-esteem, confidence and team building around a common goal, a lot can happen in four days. It is amazing to see the sudden transformations of kids that are ‘in tune.’”

While about half of the camp participants have grown up around Green Lake on farms and around woods that they are knowledgeable about, the other half a week at Conservancy Camp brings many firsts with nature.

“We have kids that have never paddled a canoe or it is their first time fishing or kayaking,” Wallenfang said. “Those are important milestones that stick with people.”

Conservancy Camp elevates the consciousness around issues of stewardship with its young participants and offers them solutions that are close to home.

“This is the water that they swim in,” Wallenfang said. “We need to take care of the lake and the area around it even when it is not summer time.”

That is what Conservancy Camp does.

Guided by the “leave no trace” ethic, campers learn how to conduct themselves in nature respectfully and to leave the land and water better than they found it.

Information about Conservancy Camp may be found at the Green Lake Conservancy Camp’s website.

Wallenfang and her staff hope to make camp as accessible for as many youth as possible.

Donations to help this mission may be made to the Green Lake Conservancy Camp in addition to local fund-raiser events, such as the Cause of the Mondays event Monday, Sept. 10 at Vines and Rushes in Ripon.

As summers in Green Lake offer the bounty of year-round conservation work, Conservancy Camp hopes to offer a brighter future for the beloved water by placing educational experiences in the hands of nature-enthusiastic youth.