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Local kids get an outdoor education

Cindy Ramunno
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyLogan Ponder, left, and Eric Boyd team up to conquer the ropes course.
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BUENA VISTA ” Just north of Buena Vista, in the upper Arkansas River valley, is an outdoor education paradise.

100 Elk Outdoor Center is nestled between the Mosquito Range and the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range. Brush Creek Elementary fourth graders camped at there last week for two nights, enjoying three days of adventures.

As the kids ate in the log cafeteria, or walked around the grounds, they were eye level with some of the tallest surrounding peaks. The center sits at about 9000 feet in the forested foothills just below Mt. Yale and Mt. Columbia, which are both more than 14,000 feet high.

Programs include everything from horseback riding to night hikes and are spread out between the corral and the ropes course in the trees. But the hub of activity is 30 year-old Valerie Lodge, a grand, log structure that houses the dining room and meeting area. Two stone fireplaces warm the comfortable rooms, large windows offer spectacular views of the surroundings, and a stage provides opportunities for theatrical creativity.

The kids didn’t just canoe ” campers learned all parts of the boat, paddling techniques and emergency protocol on a beautiful lake that edged to what looked like the end of the earth, with only the collegiate peaks in view.

They didn’t just rock climb” they learned every aspect of the sport, from locking carabineers to different types of climbing. The same principals were applied to the intense, four-station ropes course, the ecology hike, the survival game and kayaking.

The ropes courses challenged the kids to overcome fear and gain self-confidence. Instructors encouraged each student to set a personal goal, and then go for it. All the while, encouragement from peers and instructors spurred on the occasional tired or frightened climber.

One course, the zip line, was particularly popular with the campers. Another course had students working with partners. This stretch required teamwork and communication. Students walked away from the experience with heads held high and wide grins.

“The ropes courses were really cool,” said Cooper Gould.

During the ecology hike, students experienced first hand the life cycles of the forest, wildlife and the effects of the mountain pine beetle. Students also discussed different types of trees, erosion and how to identify different pine cones.

“This entire program aligns perfectly with our curriculum,” says teacher Kate Turnipseed. She said she and teachers Leni Ronzio and Jenna Walsh were impressed with educational nature of the camp’s programs.

Hot, yummy meals were provided three times a day and served family style so that the students had a chance to get to know each other better ” and no all-girl or all-boy tables. Tables were required to have one adult and at least one member of the opposite gender.

After-meal and cabin clean-up duties also required teamwork. After eating, the students scraped plates, swept floors and wiped down tables. Accommodations for students and chaperones are heated log cabins with indoor bathrooms and log bunk beds. The center began as a summer camp in 1955 and is now more than 1,100 acres.

On the second night, students enjoyed a campfire with s’mores. Local musician Phil Long drove up to play the guitar and sing classics like John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and “Grandma’s Feather Bed.”

The shimmering lake provided the perfect backdrop for Long as he strummed and encouraged everyone to sing along with their songbooks. Staff members joined in and proved once again, that they get pure enjoyment out of their jobs.

100 Elk staff are experienced outdoor educators from all over the country. Each has had training in the activities that 100 Elk offers.

The expectation is that each student will come away from their experience with a heightened awareness of those around them, a sense of self-worth and accomplishment, and a new appreciation of teamwork, camp staff members say.

For more information on programs at 100 Elk Outdoor Center, call 1-888-543-4849 or visit http://www.100elk.org.


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