West Region's New Camps Increase Access to Nature
Mass Audubon’s Action Agenda addresses three critical challenges of our time: the rapid loss of wildlife habitat, inequitable access to nature, and the threat of climate change.
Action Agenda Goal 2 focuses on inequitable access to nature with ambitious goals of:
- Creating 20 new urban green spaces and sanctuaries by 2026
- Increasing participation of children from low-income families and communities of color in educational programs (35,000 to 90,000)
- Doubling the number of children who benefit from our programs (150,000 to 300,000)
- Growing scholarship funding for these programs ($2 million annually)
In the West Region, two new camps this year--a Pittsfield camp at Canoe Meadows and a Springfield camp based in Forest Park with field trips to Laughing Brook, Arcadia, and other sites—move us toward meeting these goals while delighting young people across the region.
Even though Canoe Meadows is just a five-minute drive from downtown Pittsfield, campers are able to immerse themselves in the natural world all day for their entire camp session. The sanctuary has no power, and the only structure on-site is a large pavilion which is used as the camp headquarters. Each morning after camper drop-off and breakfast, groups hiked down a mowed path along the edge of the grassland and into a dense forest. Campers played games at their group sites, hiked and worked on nature journals throughout the sanctuary's three-mile trail system, or did naturalist activities like catching aquatic invertebrates in Sackett Brook. During hot afternoons, some campers stayed near the breezy pavilion while others visited the fields nearby to play water games or do crafts in the shade.
When asked about a story that typified that camp experience, Camp Director Nicaela Haig said there were so many to choose from, but shared this story: “We had a 7-year-old camper who was one of the most avid young naturalists I know. His family signed him up for camp because he loved watching birds and catching bugs around his home in Pittsfield. When he started on the hike down to the group sites for the first time, I saw the look of pure delight on his face as he watched butterflies, Bobolinks and Red-winged Blackbirds flying all around him on the grassland path.”
Five week-long sessions were offered with up to 20 campers participating each week. They were split into groups based on age. Of course, the groups had animal names: Painted Turtles and Blue Herons.
Pittsfield Public Schools is covering the cost of all Pittsfield students with their funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). Breakfast and lunch along with school bus transportation were offered.
Forest Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the country and a vital part of the lives of children and families in the city. This summer it was home base for Mass Audubon camps created in partnership with the Springfield Empowerment Zone for campers from the Forest Park Middle School and Springfield Realization Academy.
Being in a place that many already knew, put campers at ease and allowed them to contribute to creating a rich and fun camp experience. Being familiar with the place didn’t stop them from asking questions. Their curiosity about the plants and animals of the park was boundless. Education Coordinator Aemelia Thompson remembered one camper’s fascination with wood sorrel that was introduced on a wild edibles walk. “We can really eat this?” she asked and excitedly reported that this grew in front of her house. She could snack on it there! The Forest Park camp experience grew campers understanding of the natural world right in the place where they live.
Being at Forest Park without a dedicated work space created interesting challenges for the staff that they confronted with good humor. “It takes a lot to make a camp fun and all that stuff has been in my car,” reported Aemelia. “Instead of a Mary Poppins bag, I have my car filled with camp goodies.”
Lead Education Coordinator Liz Lewis commented that all the logistical challenges the team faced were worth it to give the campers the great nature experience they were craving.
Liz and Aemalia agreed that one of their greatest achievements of the summer was giving their campers a canoe experience. First, they had to get trained in water safety themselves; on one of their first days on the job they found themselves in soaking wet work clothes in a pool together. Then they had to make arrangements with different partners to find appropriate canoeing sites for the campers. The first group came to Arcadia and only 1 of the 10 campers had been out on the water before. The next week another group of campers was hosted by the Springfield Paddle Club.
A grant to Mass Audubon from the Springfield Empowerment Zone’ American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding underwrote the participation of campers whose ages ranged from 6th to 8th graders.