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Camp Westminster on Higgins Lake: Promoting Environmental Stewardship Among Today’s Youth

<img decoding="async" src=";ssl=1" alt="A teachable moment presents itself after campers find a turtle" data-recalc-dims="1" />

A teachable moment presents itself after campers find a turtle

<img decoding="async" src=";ssl=1" alt="Campers learn about renewable energy by cooking with solar ovens." data-recalc-dims="1" />

Campers learn about renewable energy by cooking with solar ovens.

<img decoding="async" src=";ssl=1" alt="Enjoying close encounters with nature." data-recalc-dims="1" />

Enjoying close encounters with nature.

An article was published last summer on environmental stewardship at Camp Westminster in “Water Lines,” the Higgins Lake Property Owners Association newsletter. Today’s youth face a unique paradox in that they are becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues, while their actual experience and physical contact with nature are diminishing. Today, the average American child spends just 4-7 minutes in unstructured, outdoor play each day and more than seven hours per day engaged in electronic media. In an era of diminishing environmental contact, summer camps and environmental education programs are becoming increasingly important. These programs get kids back outdoors and serve as a positive outlet and community for cooped up kids. After a week at Camp Westminster on Higgins Lake, children will spend an average of 3,920 minutes outside swimming, exploring, hiking, sailing, climbing, and learning, and 0 minutes playing video games and watching television! Located on the north shore of Higgins Lake, Camp Westminster has been welcoming children and youth since 1925. Today, one of the aims of our program for children ages 7-17 is to substantiate the environmental issues children are learning about by reconnecting them with the outdoors! Environmental education can be a futile pursuit if children don’t have positive experiences in nature with which to connect the information. Cultivating environmental stewardship requires sharing information about the issues facing our planet, but how can a community be stirred to action if they have not spent time enjoying and connecting with the environment? How can we expect children to care about the health of the watershed in which they live if they have never spent time discovering, exploring, and playing in the streams and lakes that comprise it? Summer camps and environmental education programs promote environmental stewardship not only by teaching kids about sustainability and environmentalism, but also by actively engaging them in these pursuits. At Camp Westminster, children aren’t confined to a cinderblock classroom learning about nature, but are actually in the field discovering the wonders and complexities of it through hands-on, sensory experiences. We aim to provide campers with as much fun, meaningful time outdoors as possible. Campers are offered a variety of outdoor adventures such as backpacking trips through Isle Royale National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, South Manitou Island, and rock climbing trips to Grand Ledge and Devil’s Lake State Park. These expeditions are rife with teachable moments, growth experiences, and fun! Imagine the passion a camper could develop for the preservation of the moose population at Isle Royale National Park after seeing a moose for the first time while hiking there!Campers don’t have to leave the shores of Higgins Lake to learn about environmental ethics and sustainability. Each camp session incorporates Leave No Trace principles which aim to teach people of all ages how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly; Sailing Camp and Sailing Regatta campers not only learn how to sail and spend ample time on Higgins Lake practicing their skills, but they also learn about the importance of boat washes in maintaining healthy lakes. Environmental education at Camp Westminster includes issues unique to our location such as the threat of invasive species in Higgins Lake. To combat this issue, we have enlisted the help of older campers to remove zebra mussels from the surrounding water. Campers have also contributed and learned about sustainability at Camp Westminster by creating a camp compost bin and recycling center. Other daily green initiatives include reminding campers about the importance of preserving water and electricity; using biodegradable utensils, plates, and cups made of cornstarch at our weekly cookout; and switching from paper napkins to cloth napkins at every meal in an effort to reduce paper waste. These activities actively engage campers in sustainability measures which they bring back to their home or community. Because of our commitment to on-site sustainability and environmental education, Camp Westminster on Higgins Lake has continuously received the Green Leaf Seal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Environmental Ministries and the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association. Additionally, Camp Westminster has received several grants to carry out projects benefitting the Higgins Lake Watershed such as a grant from the Roscommon County Community Foundation to install biologs in an effort to protect the eroding shoreline, and a grant from the Higgins Lake Foundation to update and repair our septic system to ensure the water table remains healthy and uncontaminated! Ensuring the health and preservation of the natural environment begins with educating today’s youth and creating positive experiences that connect youth with the natural environment. Children who come to Camp Westminster are future business owners, community leaders, and entrepreneurs. By providing children with time outdoors and fostering positive memories, camp connects youth to the natural environment and plants the seeds of environmental advocacy. The child who stomps through a stream at Camp Westminster this summer could be the voice who saves a natural wetland from being filled-in years down the road!

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