by Paul Koenig, staff writer
LITCHFIELD â Kids ankle-deep in a cloudy stream dug their hands in the clay bed, pulling out clumps of the gray sediment.
“It feels so awesome,” shouted William Dollhopf, 10, as he lifted his feet up and down in the wet clay covering the bottom of the stream and sloping upward in a 15-foot tall ledge.
The messy activity was part of a summer day camp held Monday and Tuesday by the Kennebec Land Trust on one of its conservation properties.
“Everyone grab a piece of cardboard and a ball of clay and head over there,” said Gina Lamarche, program director for the land trust. “I’ll show you stuff to make.”
Around 10 kids between the ages of 6 and 10 attended the two-day nature camp held at the Small-Burnham Conservation Area off Pine Tree Road in Litchfield.
The Kennebec Land Trust is a nonprofit organization based in Winthrop that has conserved over 4,600 acres of forests, fields and shorelands through ownership and easements in the Kennebec Valley area.
The organization also hosts educational programs for its members and the public.
Nicole Rhodes, a conservation assistant for the organization, said the summer camp, in its first year, is a pilot program that they hope to expand in future summers.
She said they’d like to bring children who live in cities like Augusta and Lewiston to experience nature and learn about the outdoors during the summer.
Rhodes said she sees the summer camp as a way to encourage future generations to appreciate the value of conservation.
The organization will likely expand the program next year to four full days, Lamarche said.
She said the summer camp program is structured around experiencing different senses when exploring the outdoors.
The campers played a game Monday that involved blindfolds and noisemakers to simulate a bat using echolocation to find its prey.
The group started Tuesday off with an activity using their sense of smell. Kids passed around bottles containing scents such as lemon zest, cinnamon and dirt, and tried to guess what each bottle contained.
Dollhopf said his favorite part of the camp was hiking and finding things in the woods during the day camp.
“I like getting to enjoy (nature) because I don’t really get to enjoy it where I live,” he said.
Dollhopf lives in Pennsylvania, but his parents have a summer house in the area.
“I just like it,” Dollhopf said when asked what he likes about nature. “It’s usually nice and quiet, and it’s very beautiful.”
Some campers took advantage of the time before the hike to the clay bank with an informal hunting-and-gathering expedition in a field on the property.
“It’s really fun trying to catch bugs,” said Meghan Clark, 8. “We caught a grasshopper today.”
“And a cricket,” added Calle Lamarche, Lamarche’s 8-year-old daughter.
Clark also caught a gray tree frog on the trip to the clay bank.
“Anybody else want to see him?” Clark asked the other campers, as she cupped her hands together around the frog.
The frog, not much longer than an inch, kept jumping out of her hands to the ground whenever she opened them up to show it to the other kids.
“Remember about flat hands,” Lamarche said. “We don’t want to cover the top if they want to get out.”
Lamarche said they taught the kids about the importance of respecting nature during the first day of the camp.
The 250 acres of woodlands, wetlands, hayfields and ponds in the Small-Burnham Conservation Area have been conserved through an easement since 2005.
One of the owners of the land, Delmar Dustin Small of Litchfield, lead the group hike to the clay bank on Tuesday along part of the area’s 2.5 miles of trails.
Lamarche planned to teach the kids how to make pinch pots with the clay they found, but only one of the campers ended up making a pot.
Other kids made animals, cake and pizza out of the clay.
Clark made a paw print on a slab of clay with help of Small’s dog’s paw.
She said she enjoyed being in the woods because it’s peaceful and quiet.
“It’s some place you can go and think and be quiet and figure out things,” Clark said. “There are a lot of beautiful things in nature.”