Our new intern, Kira Miller, provides her perspective on the three-day residential programming Sierra Institute, in partnership with Plumas Unified School District, provided for local 7th grade students September 6-8 here in Taylorsville.
A tangle of hands across the circle bound all of us together on the first day of Taylorsville’s inaugural Wildlife Camp. As we worked together to silently unwind ourselves from our human knot, we found ways of communicating that didn’t involve words. This team building activity, and resulting closeness, set the tone for our time together over the next few days.
The Greenville High School 7th graders who comprised that tangle were the first to experience this 3-day residential program focused on experiential education and community building. Over the course of these three days, students were exposed to a variety of new concepts and environmental themes. We tested students’ newly developed compass skills with an orienteering scavenger hunt, which also unearthed clues about local wildlife. We explored Indian Creek with Max Egloff, a representative from Plumas Unified School District, who drew comparisons between human and wildlife habitats and asked students to view the creek through the eyes of an animal. Courtney led a lesson on wolves, which included a “find your pack” activity that honed students’ sense of smell.
We also had a few special guests who added to the Wildlife Camp experience. Students joined a team of Forest Service hydrologists to work on a stream restoration project near Antelope Lake, where they learned how to build dams out of hearty willow branches in order to decrease sediment flow and restore the streambed. Lorena Gorbet gave us an interesting presentation about TEK – traditional ecological knowledge – and the Maidu relationship with the land.
And then…we had a campout!
It was after our delicious dinner on the second night of camp that we packed up our gear and prepared to sleep beneath the stars. We drove up the windy China Grade road into the dark and parked above Crystal Lake. Relying only on our night vision and steady feet, we took a silent hike down to the lakeshore, tiptoeing down the steep hill. Moments after arriving, the moon rose between some distant clouds, welcoming us to our camp.
For so many of these students, this was an experience unlike any they had ever had. Passing on tents, we laid out a large tarp and our sleeping bags, settling in to listen to wolf stories from Max and Courtney. We let out a group howl and were returned one in surprise. Although this is the first time in 90 years that an actual wolf pack could potentially call back, it turns out our response was from a group of campers at the top of Mt. Hough. But this didn’t faze the students’ excitement one bit.
Our group slept soundly – even through the midnight rain – and woke up eager to embrace the Polar Plunge into the lake. The clear water, orange sunrise, and still risen moon created the perfect final morning.
Wildlife Camp wrapped up nicely with a barbecue and some tasteful wildlife skits. The students brought all of the creativity, enthusiasm, and learning that they had to offer to tell stories of how their wildlife species of choice came to arrive in Indian Valley. We watched skits about a mountain lion hunting a deer, the “Chicago bears” travelling all the way to Taylorsville, and the wild, untamed cow falling into Indian Valley via helicopter!
We jumbled hands once more and silently untangled ourselves from our final human knot in nearly half the time it took us the first day. Our group had come together during these three days, learning about wildlife and exuding a level of energy that only 7th graders could maintain. As the students hopped back on the bus Friday afternoon, I let out a sigh of relief for a successful camp and I am already looking forward to spending more time with this enthusiastic group.