A Unique Setting

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn’t the only national park to host residential camps and programs for children, but it is one of the first, says Stacey Heffernan, director of the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center (CVEEC).

A camper waters plants at Farm Camp. Photo courtesy of NPS/Ted Toth

The campus opened in 1994, and encompasses 500 acres. The specific piece of land in Peninsula, Ohio, is closed to the public, giving children the chance to openly explore relatively unspoiled nature.

Operated in partnership with the National Park Service and the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the nonprofit friends group of the park, the CVEEC exposes children to a project-based curriculum correlated to Common Core and Ohio State Academic Content Standards in science, math, language arts, social studies, fine arts, and technology.

The CVEEC warmly embraces both children and adults throughout the year. A resident program for fourth to eighth graders focuses on the Cuyahoga Valley watershed, and explores energy flow, biodiversity, natural cycles, community, sustainability, and human/earth interplay.

Day programs discuss geology, ecology, natural history, and Ohio history, while weekend youth and adult programs offer professional development opportunities for teachers, natural-history classes, and weekends for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Programs are taught by a full-time staff and field-instructor interns.

In summertime, the CVEEC comes alive in a different way, offering week-long ACA-accredited overnight camps, led by college students home for summer break and teaching-interns with post-graduate experience in the academic arena.

With the Cuyahoga Valley National Park as its backdrop, the camps mix scholastic and leisure pursuits.

The Magical Theatre Company of Barberton, Ohio, presides over Theatre Camp, teaching skills in acting, voice, movement, and stage combat. There is no wooden stage; that’s what the outdoors is for.

The camp culminates with performances in the forests and fields, and parents are invited to hike in order to see their campers perform.

The popular Survivor Camp tests a much different skill set. Children in grades five through 10 learn to build a fire without matches, locate edible wild plants, solve complex puzzles in record time, and master the sport of orienteering.

To finish the week, children hike 4 miles for an overnight camp-out putting their learned skills to the test.

The local historical farming valley is the perfect setting for Farm Camp, a newer initiative bearing the motto, “Farm it, Sell it, Cook it!” Attendees spend most of their days at Hale Farm and Village, an outdoor living-history museum in Bath, Ohio.

Here’s where campers bunk. Photo courtesy of NPS/Ted Toth

According to its website, mid-19th-century life is depicted through historic structures, farm animals, heritage gardens, cooking demonstrations, and demonstrations of Early American craft and trades.

For the visiting campers, mornings begin with farm chores, including the feeding of barn animals, weeding, and composting. The campers also harvest produce to be sold at local farmer’s markets.

The entrepreneurial piece is an important part of the Farm Camp experience, Heffernan says.

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