May 26

Each year the fifth grade teachers at Kieran’s school organize a trip to camp at the Howell Conference and Nature Center. It’s a three day, two night experience. For some of the students it was the first time at any sort of camp. Of course, Kieran has been to a number of camps with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I went along as a chaperon, and I think I had as much fun as the kids.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Group Before Departure

Here's everybody at school before boarding the bus

The kids rode from school to camp on a school bus. The chaperons carpooled there and carried some of the kids baggage with them. We left at 9:45 am on Wednesday, March 19.

Once everybody arrived we got our room assignments. The girls were in one building and the boys in another. Most of the rooms were setup with a number of bunks in them. The chaperons in the boys building got rooms for two people and shared with their son. Because of that I had no problem sleeping after quiet time each night! This certainly is less rustic than Cub Scout Resident Camp.

After a lunch of Subway party subs (not provided by the camp) we broke up into our travel groups. There were three of them A, B, and C. We all lined up in front of the dining hall near a rock with our letter on it. This is where we started out on our adventures after each meal.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Group C

Group C - Jake, Cody, Chandler, Malik, Jurnee, Kayla, Hannah, Arndrayla, Maiya, Alec, Kieran, Marcus, Arryn

Our first activity was the low ropes course. We hiked out into the woods with our guide Becky. The course consisted of a number of ropes strung between trees. Everybody got a chance to try all of the different challenges.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Low Ropes 1

Lean back and keep the rope taught on this one

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Low Ropes 2

Lean or pull on that top rope

There were supposed to be two kids on each side of the rope making sure to catch the person on the rope if they fell. They were the “spotters”.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Low Ropes 3

Move from one hanging support rope to the next

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Low Ropes 4

Hold the supports on either side and step from rope to rope - skip some if you can

In the “Hot Lava” game everybody had to swing on a rope over the lava area into a large rubber hoop. If anybody touched the lava, then everybody had to start over again. It took them a few tries to figure out who should go when.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Low Ropes 5

Swinging over the lava

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Low Ropes 6

Success - The last person makes it over the lava

After low ropes it was time for Fire Starting and Shelter Building. First everybody got instructions on how to prepare kindling and tinder for a fire from our guide Heather. In smaller groups they tried several different arrangements such as teepee or log cabin. In order to avoid wiping out the forest, none of the fires burned for long before Heather put them out.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Fire Starting

Kieran trying to light one of the fires

Everyone seemed to like Shelter Building more than Fire Starting. There were three building areas. Each of them had a large number of sticks and branches of various sizes and some mature live trees that could be used to construct a shelter of some sort. Kieran worked with three other kids on a shelter. At first the girls and the boys couldn’t agree on what they were going to do. That was eventually resolved and they came up with something that passed the shake test. So they climbed inside.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Shelter Building 1

All the builders in their completed shelter

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Shelter Building 2

Kieran and the completed shelter

Dinner was our first meal provided by the camp. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, rolls, and brownies. It was good food and nobody went hungry after they called for seconds.

Dinner was followed by an actual hike. I’m not sure how long it was, but we went out on some trails and sought out our guide’s favorite tree. This old tree has a hollow trunk at its base, but it is still alive. We went off trail to get over to it and everybody got a chance to climb into it. The guide realized a little too late that there was poison ivy rather near this tree. Thankfully nobody came in contact with any of it.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Hiking Tree

During the hike everybody got a chance to stand inside a live tree

Our final guided activity of the day was a camp fire with s’mores! Who doesn’t like s’mores? I prefer my marshmallows golden brown, but most of the kids wanted to burn them all the way to charred. It didn’t seem to matter once they were put with the graham crackers and chocolate.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Camp Fire

I love how happy Kieran looks in this picture

Lights out the first night was at 10 o’clock. The boys played dodge ball and other things behind our lodge right up until the end. I could still hear boys talking through our open windows until about midnight, but they weren’t being disruptive so it was fine.

During each meal one of the three travel groups got to be the “hoppers”. They had to arrive early to help setup for the meal, they had to run to the kitchen to get things that their table needed during the meal, and they had to help cleanup afterward. For all their hard word they got to be first in line for food. Group C was assigned hopper duty for breakfast both days. Thursday’s breakfast was pancakes, sausage, fruit, and individual cereal bowls for those who wanted them.

After meeting at the Group C rock we hiked off to the archery range. It was the first time with a bow and arrow for most of the kids. Kieran and I had plenty of experience from Resident Camp. I tried to help the guide show some of the people how to do it. By the end everybody was able to hit the target or come very close. The adults got to try it too after the kids were done. I got two out of three on the target. The other was too low and bounced off the frame.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Archery Aim

Ready, Aim, Fire

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Archery Target

Kieran after a successful round of archery

Canoeing was next. It’s been a very long time since I was in a canoe, and I’d forgotten how fun it is. The camp is on Pleasant Lake so that’s where we canoed. Our guide Tiffany wanted to pair those who had been in a canoe before with those who hadn’t. So I rode with Alec and Kieran rode with Jake. Tiffany was very impressed with our group’s ability to control the canoes given our overall lack of experience.

I didn’t want to take the camera in the boat just in case we tipped. So I don’t have any pictures of the turtles, muskrat, and fish that Alex and I saw along the shore. I think this was the first muskrat I’d ever seen. They are excellent swimmers.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Canoes

Kieran and Jake navigated the water quite well

Everyone in group C kept their boats upright and stayed dry. Groups A and B both had boats that tipped and dumped their occupants into the lake. Nobody was hurt and everybody was either pulled into another canoe or swam to the shore.

What came next was just about everybody’s favorite activity during the entire camp. It was the zip line! It’s a 500 foot steel cable stretched across a pond in the woods. You can see it in this picture. You might want to click through to the full size image to see it better.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - The Zip Line

Here you can see the zip line stretched across the pond while the kids get their instructions

The zip line equipment consisted of a seat harness, a helmet, and the straps that attach the harness to the line. Everybody who wanted to ride the line put on a harness. There were only four helmets and strap sets so the first four people put them on and walked around the pond with Becky. One at a time she’d attach everything, make sure the brackets were tight and then yell across the pond to make sure everything was ready. Once Chris yelled “Zip Away” the person was ready to go.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Starting Down the Zip Line

Kieran at the far end of the zip line

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - End of the Zip Line

Look mom, no hands!

What’s it like? I have to admit I was just a little hesitant when I heard “Zip Away”. To start you just walk down the slope. You’re not supposed to pick up your feet early. You just let the line lift you off the ground. There is a handle strap that you can hold on to, but you don’t need to. The harness will keep you upright if you want to put your hands down or out like Kieran did. The ride lasts about 15 seconds. It goes by much quicker when you’re the one doing it instead of just watching. As I approached the end of the line I started to think I was going to hit the tree that anchors it, but that doesn’t happen. The stop caught the pulley over the platform and Chris guided me to the ladder so he could unhook me. It was a lot of fun and I would have liked to do it again, but we only got one turn each.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Dad on the Zip Line

That's me

After all that excitement it was time for lunch. We had Bosco Sticks (bread sticks filled with pizza sauce, cheese, and pepperoni – or just cheese), vegetables and dip, and cookies. Simple but good.

Skit practice was next. Tiffany was in charge of the skits. She had a large selection of skits and selected people to perform in them. Our group combined with group A for skit practice. After going over each skit with the cast they each broke off to their own area to practice. Kieran was cast in a skit called J.C. Penny.

After all the skits were committed to memory we headed back into the woods. A wilderness scavenger hunt was next on our schedule. I was given a laminated sheet with a bingo grid of items we were supposed to locate in the woods. We got points for each item we found and bonus points for any bingos we managed to finish on our sheet. We did get one bingo and our final score of 42 points tied for first place.

Our final program before dinner was Birds of Prey. We were shown four different birds that are permanent residents of the Wild Wonders Wildlife Park that is part of the Nature Center. We met an owl, a falcon, a turkey vulture, and one other bird that I cannot remember. The presenter was very knowledgeable, and patient with the many questions the kids had.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Birds Of Prey

This fine looking Great Horned Owl was the first bird we met

There was some scheduled free time after the Birds of Prey. Since the program was shorter than the allotted time there was lots of free time.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Free Time

Free time at the volleyball net

Dinner was mostaccioli with some very good meat sauce. They also had vegetarian sauce and plain noodles for those who wanted them. There was a side dish of some sort as well. Cherry chip cake finished off the meal.

After the meal was done and cleaned up the same space was used for the skit performances. Everybody did a really good job with their skits. There were also performances by several of the adults that featured mysteries that the kids had to try to figure out. There was plenty of comedy to keep everybody interested.

Lights out on the second night wasn’t until 12, but the guys had to be in their rooms at 10. Those kids like Kieran that weren’t in a room with any of the other boys could visit another room until it was time for lights out. It was a long day for everyone. Kieran came back to our room early and I didn’t hear much noise from any of the other rooms after he returned.

Waffles with strawberries and whip cream along with sausage made for a tasty start to our Friday. After our hopper crew had the place cleaned up we met at the rock and headed out with Becky for Native American Games.

We had the first rain of the trip this final morning. We were all in our rain gear for the games. There were four different games that we rotated through. They were pretty simplistic and didn’t hold the attention of these modern electronic game loving kids.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Native American Games

Try to get you opponent to smile, bend their arms, or move their feet

Our schedule called for Orienteering to come next, but that activity was dropped due to the rain. Instead we headed up to Wild Wonders Wildlife Park and got a tour of the various animals in their outdoor enclosures. They have quite a collection of animals. It’s not a zoo. All of these animals have been rehabilitated after suffering injuries. Most of them are permanent residents now because they cannot fend for themselves or they’re too imprinted on their human caretakers.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Red Foxes

Did you know that red foxes can climb trees?

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Coyote

The coyote that howled for us

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Kieran 5th Grade Trip - Screech Owl

This screech owl flew into the picnic shelter after Wild Wilderness - he was actually wild

I think my favorite parts of our animal tour were the coyote that howled along with us when we made howling noises, and the wild screech owl that flew into the picnic shelter and looked at us all with its squinty eyes.

We left our owl friend and trekked over to the pond. The Pond Exploration activity didn’t seem very interesting before we got there. In fact a number of the kids thought it would be boring. Once we got there and they all discovered they would be digging through pond muck and looking for bugs everybody got into it.

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Pond 1

This frog got scooped up in the pond net - He was too big to hold on to

Kieran's 5th Grade Trip - Pond 2

Kieran and Alec exploring more muck

The kids worked in groups of two or three. They’d use a scoop net to pull a bunch of muck up from the bottom of the pond. Then they’d pick through it with spoons looking for bugs. They’d put what they found in a cup of water. By the end Kieran and Alec had a huge variety of things swimming around their cup at varying speeds. Every single scoop produced something for the cup.

Did you notice that the rain gear came off? It stopped raining and turned sunny for the rest of the day.

Pond was our very last nature activity. We had one more lunch in the dining hall – macaroni and cheese – and then we had to pack up our stuff for the trip home. That didn’t take too long and we didn’t have to add our bags to the huge pile waiting for the bus since I had my car. The bus didn’t arrive for a little while so there was some more free time to be had.

As usual the end of camp was bittersweet. Part of me was ready to go home and rest for a while. The rest wanted a longer dose of nature and togetherness with Kieran

I would recommend the Howell Nature Center to anybody looking for a camp experience or even just a one day visit. The staff is very friendly and helpful. The food was always good and plentiful. The activities were age appropriate and usually kept the kids interested. They have a rock climbing wall and tower that we didn’t get to try out, but they looked like fun.

Thanks to the fifth grade teachers Mrs. Hill and Mr. Hotchkiss for all the time and effort they put into organizing the trip. It was a lot of fun. The twins are already looking forward to going when they’re in the fifth grade!

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