Spring, summer camps help connect kids with nature

March 8, 2016 - 8:02am

Campers learn about species from around the world, explore animal-related careers

With spring just around the corner, Northwest campers should be prepared for encounters with bears, cougars and bobcats — not to mention elephants, lions and orangutans. The Oregon Zoo's spring break day camps return March 21-25, and its summer camps, presented by Banfield Pet Hospital, start June 13.

"Zoo day camps are a great way for kids to have some active, outdoor fun and connect with nature," said Grant Spickelmier, zoo education curator. "Campers explore little-known areas of the zoo, learn about animals by meeting them face to face, and leave inspired to care for the natural world."

Camp activities — specifically planned for the interests of each age group — include games, tours, stories, songs, animal visitors and take-home art projects inspired by the day's theme. The overarching theme for this year's spring break camps is "Defense of the Wild Ones," with individual camps themed around Nature Ninjas, Ocean Commotion, Creature Teachers, Survival Superheroes and The Forces of Nature Awaken.

As of this writing, spots are still available for most age groups, but Spickelmier says they tend to fill quickly as spring and summer breaks draw near. 

Zoo campers have even more to look forward to in the years ahead. Construction crews are hard at work on the zoo's new conservation education center, which will be a focal point for the thousands of children who participate in zoo camps and classes each year. The center, set to open in 2017, is the fifth of eight major projects made possible by the 2008 community-supported zoo bond measure.

"The center represents our region's commitment to conservation education, and we are eagerly planning for the many new opportunities the facility will provide for zoo guests, campers and teens," Spickelmier said.

The Oregon Zoo Foundation is more than halfway to raising its goal of $1.5 million in support of the zoo's education programs and enhancements for the new center, including tools and technology to help future conservationists study the natural world.

The zoo's professional camp staff has been helping children explore the wonders of wildlife through fun, hands-on learning since 1983. Staff members are selected for excellence in programming for children and typically have also worked for public schools, OMSI, Outdoor School or Audubon. Most are college graduates or are working on a degree, and many return year after year.