Friends of VINP Help Record Number of Students Enjoy Eco-Camps


A group of local students, above, enjoyed eco-camp at V.I. Environmental Resource Station at Lameshur Bay this summer free of charge, thanks to Friends of VINP supporters.

This past summer marked the 13th year that Friends of V.I. National Park, V.I. Environmental Resource Station and Clean Islands International worked in partnership to offer Eco-Camps for local students.

In July, 161 Virgin Islanders between the ages of 7 and 16 years old attended one of seven summer camps at VIERS on the south side of St. John in V.I. National Park.

For the first time this year, Friends of VINP was able to add a fifth eco-camp session, allowing the group to serve 34 more children overall. This was also the second year which students from St. Croix joined the camp for all three camp experiences — eco-camps, science camps and ranger in training.

The first two weeks July were occupied by five eco-camp sessions. These camps provided 122 local youth aged 7 to 12 a three-day and two-night camping experience, during which they participated in many environmental education activities, games and projects.

These activities help local youth better understand the variety and importance of the eco-systems which can be found in the Virgin Islands.

This year’s camps included all of the usual activities such as swimming, snorkeling, a seashore walk, camp fire time, along with time-honored environmental learning games including the Queen Termite game and an enviro-scavenger hunt.

Campers learned about and discussed the oil spew in the Gulf of Mexico and the environmental impact it has on the marine and coastal ecosystems there. Camp leaders used an interactive diorama of a hillside and coastline with mangroves to show the children the effects of runoff and sedimentation that can occur, which they then saw firsthand in the bay shortly after a rainstorm.

Recycling, alternative energy and water conservation methods used at VIERS were discussed, as well as ways to include them in everyday life after camp. Organic gardening techniques have become a regular part of eco-camp curriculum. Campers learned about composting, mixing soils, and planting and tending to seedlings.

Each camper also got a small sapling to take home and put their newly acquired green thumbs to work!
Science Camp returned for its fifth year as the program continues to gain momentum and popularity. Fifteen campers aged 13 to 15 spent five days and four nights at VIERS taking a closer look at their marine and coastal surroundings. A number of students were returning campers, which enabled them to apply their prior eco-camp experiences and learning to the concepts covered in this camp, and to act as peer guides for the newer campers.

Hiking and snorkeling excursions included in depth discussions and activities and an increased amount of time was spent at the waterside lab examining and identifying specimens. Classroom lectures extended into the evenings and no camp experience would be complete without campfire stories and s’mores.

Ranger-in-Training Camp returned for its third year with a total of 24 campers and included students from St. Croix for the first time ever. The focus of the four-day and two-night camp was to give 13 to 16-year-olds interested in environmental stewardship and resource management insight into the career opportunities available to them and a firsthand look at how those jobs translated into every day activities within the VINP.

The curriculum has been expanded to include more information about the interpretive and enforcement divisions of the National Park Service. Classroom and study sessions were balanced with hands-on activities alongside rangers in the park. An activity in navigation and GPS mapping of ruins was led by rangers in the archeology field, while resource protection rangers taught the kids about turtle nesting through an interactive turtle crawl activity. 

Classroom sessions included a presentation about park careers and the educational paths that lead to them and the importance of leadership and community partnerships. In addition to classroom time there was also night time sky gazing, a tree frog hunt and time around the campfire at VIERS. Each aspiring Ranger kept a “Nature Journal” during the camp where they logged their research findings, reflections and experiences.  

It is because of the generous support of Friends of VINP that local students were able to attend camp free of charge to their families.

Friends announced special thanks to Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, Lana Vento Charitable Trust, Disney Cruise Line, Innovative, R&I Patton Goldsmithing, Anne Spychala Family Charitable Foundation, Starboard Investments, Glacial Energy VI, International Capital & Management Company, Rotary Club of St. John, VI-EPSCoR and the National Science Foundation.