SWANSBORO — For most kids, summer means a break from school and a focus on fun and games, but for those who attend days camps on Jones Island in the White Oak River learning and fun are one and the same.
The camps are sponsored by the N.C. Coastal Federation and Hammocks Beach State Park, which owns most of the 17-acre, undeveloped island. Sarah Phillips, coastal education coordinator for the federation, said the camps started last year and have been so successful that she has doubled the number of camps offered this summer.
“The camps were so popular last year that we doubled them and divided the age groups up differently,” she said. “The day is packed full of activities, so we actually added an hour from last year. We are still making adjustments to see what works best for everyone.”
The camps can accommodate up to 22 kids a day.
The most recent day camp in late June was for rising 6th and 7th graders. A few of them had attended one of the camps last year, but were glad to be back.
The children meet at the park visitors’ center by 9 a.m. A park boat takes them on the 10-minute run to the island and returns them at 3 p.m.
The campers spend the day learning about coastal ecosystems and ecology, Native American influences and critters through hands-on activities like the “Oh Deer” game. The game helps the kids learn what can happen when various scenarios like drought and fire affect the habitat of the deer population on Jones Island. After a few rounds of the game where the “deer” must find water, shelter or food or disappear, Park Ranger Renee Tomczak and an assistant show the kids a graph depicting several years of deer numbers and how those natural and unnatural disasters can affect the population.
For another activity, teams of campers are given a map and assigned an animal or bird and have to locate food, shelter or water for that particular critter. After they have located at least two of each they regroup and discuss the ease or difficulty of finding the habitat for that bird or animal and perhaps why that animal chooses to live at Jones Island.
Hunter Armstrong from Cape Carteret said he learned a lot about local deer—how they can swim across the White Oak River to get back and forth from the island and how they have a special tube that allows them to drink the brackish water. His grandparents were looking for things for him to do this summer when they came across the day camp. “I know a lot of friends who have come to the camp,” he added.
Phillips said the day is packed full of information such about pollution, local culture, forestry, ecology, camouflage, animals, plants, water quality and anything else that may come up throughout the day-long activities and dialogue.
“At the end of the day we want them to be able to make some environmental decisions on their own and figure out what they can do at home to help out the environment,” Phillips said. “They can also get a Hammocks Beach Junior Ranger Badge at the end of the day.”
Day camper Elena Gonzalez of Jacksonville said she enjoyed the day camp and by noon had already learned a lot. “One thing I’ve learned is why the trees aren’t so tall and why sometimes the shells we find have holes in them.”
She was even wearing a nice shell necklace she made herself.
“My mom was looking online (for camps) and found this one for me,” she said.
Gonzalez said she was glad she attended the camp and would love to come back again.
When it’s not hosting camper, Jones Island serves as an active restoration site. Hundreds of volunteer have worked over the year to build oyster reefs around the island and restore its eroding shorelines. There are several picnic tables on the island but no other facilities open unless the park rangers are there. During the day camps the bathrooms are open and an education building is available that at one time served as a bath house for the previous owners.
The cost of the day camp is $30 a child. Participants must bring their own lunch but snacks and water are provided. Participants should wear or bring clothes that will get wet, closed-toe shoes, which are required, a towel and a hat or sunscreen.
The next scheduled day camp is Wednesday and will be for rising third through fifth graders. The rain date will be July 12. The final camp is on July 25 and will also be for the same age group.
Check out the federation web site for more information and to register or call 252-393-8185.