In a world where most teenagers are focused on Tweets, Facebook and music via earbuds, how do we get a new generation interested in using the parks, much less trying a decidedly "low-tech" activity like camping?
Rangers at Lake Mead National Recreation Area are trying one approach with high school students in the Las Vegas area, and it's getting some positive comments. "Camping 101" introduces teenagers to outdoor fun—and helps instill some outdoor ethics and safety tips as part of the package.
The program began last year when rangers from Lake Mead teamed with the Southern Nevada Agency Partnership (SNAP) to take the program to the schools. SNAP is a partnership between U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service that works to coordinate the protection, conservation and use of the federal lands of Southern Nevada.
The lessons take place on the school soccer field, where groups of students practice setting up tents, learn how to use a compass, are introduced to "Leave No Trace" ethics, and learn the basic skills needed to plan a trip or overnight stay at a park. Surrounded by a dozen tents, the students experience a campsite filled with lanterns, cook stoves, pots and pans and flashlights.
Education rangers worked with the Clark County School District to develop 60 and 85 minute lessons that introduce freshmen high school students to outdoor fun. A key element in the program has been a partnership with the outdoor equipment company REI; the supplier loaned tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and sleeping pads for use in the programs at no cost.
Many of these same students also visit the public lands surrounding Las Vegas to kayak, hike, rock scramble and snowshoe as part of a Project Adventure program sponsored by the Clark County School District through a grant from the Michael Jordan Foundation. SNAP educators and educators from UNLV's Public Lands Institute coordinate these visits to give the students a hands-on experience in the backcountry.
The latest school to benefit from these lessons was Desert Oasis High School, where hundreds of students "camped" in an urban setting—even if only for an hour.
Thus far the program has reached over 2,000 students, and during the current school year, it will be presented at one high school per month. Feedback from the students and teachers has been very positive. Program organizers report "many students say they're determined to visit Lake Mead NRA in the future."
It's a pretty safe bet these brief "campouts" on the school soccer field were the subjects of a least a few text messages and "tweets" among Las Vegas teenagers … and that's a good start.