Camping For Conservation

This unique summer camp offers outdoor experiences with a goal of inspiring youth to conserve natural resources.

If you know a youngster age 8 to 17 who wants to explore the great outdoors in the Ocala National Forest and receive training and certification in such endeavors as archery and hunting, you may want to tell them about the annual Ocala Outdoor Adventure Camp (OOAC).

The camp takes place at the Ocala Conservation Center (OCC), which is part of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network (FYCCN), founded in 2010 as a public-private partnership with a goal of inspiring youth to conserve natural resources. Four centers—in Ocala, Apollo Beach, West Palm Beach and Tallahassee—operate year-round and convert to summer camps from Ma

y through August. When not hosting summer camp, the centers are used for such things as hunter safety courses, youth hunter education challenges, Scout groups, 4-H shooting groups and school programs.

This year’s outdoor adventure camp for ages 8 to 14 runs for seven weeks, from June 11th through July 28th. There also is a leadership training camp for ages 15 to 17. The four “pillars” of the program are paddle sports, shooting sports, fishing and wildlife discovery. Campers also swim, build bonfires, develop survival skills, do orienteering and learn knot-tying.

This year’s outdoor adventure camp for ages 8 to 14 runs for seven weeks, from June 11th through July 28th. There also is a leadership training camp for ages 15 to 17. The four “pillars” of the program are paddle sports, shooting sports, fishing and wildlife discovery. Campers also swim, build bonfires, develop survival skills, do orienteering and learn knot-tying.

At the OCC, campers take meals in a dining hall and sleep in air-conditioned cabins. The center director is Will Burnett.

“I came to work at the camp when I was 15, as a volunteer,” he shares. “I love the outdoors and have always been passionate about working with children. Here, I was able to both work largely outside and teach kids about conservation. I fell in love with the place and it became like a second home.”

Burnett, a native of Mississippi, worked at the OCC for six summers during high school and college. After three years of wildland firefighting with the U.S. Forest Service and graduating from Florida State University with a degree in environmental studies, he became a hunter safety regional coordinator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“I held that position for three years and then accepted the director position at OCC in 2018,” he says. “Camp changes lives for the better, both for the staff and the campers. Being able to unplug and immerse yourself in an outdoor environment, teaching and learning about the natural world and our role in it, is very rewarding. Recreation opportunities from fishing, swimming, watersports, camping and shooting keeps it exciting and engaging for the campers.”

Other OCC team members include Jarred Johnson, the hunter safety coordinator, a fourth-generation Floridian; Jeff Marr, the maintenance technician, who has been there since 1964 as camper, counselor, instructor and volunteer; and Mark Clere, the waterfront director, who has been overseeing swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddling and fishing activities since 2012.

Kristi Johnson treasures the memories of summers as a pre-teen attending the OOAC, such as paddling a canoe, the connection to the outdoors during educational hikes and the excitement of mentored learning experiences at the camp’s shooting range. Her love of those early experiences, coupled with camp staff recognizing her leadership skills, led her to the counselor-in-training program and eventually to an assistant camp director position. She formed lifelong friendships with others and developed leadership and communications skills that serve her well today as assistant director at the University of Florida’s Dean of Students Office. She’s also an avid hunter, target shooter and conservationist. 

“The Ocala Outdoor Adventure Camp provides a learning environment that’s safe and fun and allows kids to gain outdoors skills they wouldn’t learn at school,” Johnson offers. “The opportunity to learn about conservation, develop life skills like team building, and engage with others who share those outdoor interests and values is an experience every kid should have.” OS

OOAC Summer Camp Programs

Wildlife Adventures | Ages 8-10 | Explore upland ecosystems to discover the hidden mysteries of natural areas and use scientific tools to identify plants and animals. Discover how adaptations and interrelationships allow organisms to survive in their environment.

Pathfinders | Ages 9-14 | Participate in the FWC Hunter Safety Certification program, learn outdoor ethics, wildlife conservation, habitats, wild game and hunting skills. Classes are led by a certified instructor in a controlled environment. 

Trailblazers | Ages 10-11 | Participate in an overnight wilderness camping experience. Learn skills such as wildlife viewing, basic knot tying, shelter building, orienteering, equipment preparation and canoeing. 

Rangers | Ages 12-13 | Campers who have completed the Hunter Safety Certification can participate in this advanced shooting sports program. 

Outfitters | Ages 12-14 | After completing the Hunter Safety Certification, campers can learn archery and bowhunting skills through innovative programs and acquire certification in the National Bowhunter Education Foundation’s bowhunting course. 

Expedition | Ages 13-14 | Learn to make responsible decisions with minimal environmental impact, discover critical orienteering skills and perfect outdoor food preparation and cooking, knot tying, camp crafts and weather monitoring. 

Leadership Camp | Ages 15-17 | Trained high school students support staff with camper activities. Forty community service hours are awarded for each week of volunteer service.

To learn more about camp tuition, which
includes meals, lodging and minor accident insurance (secondary policy), go to
fyccn.org/ocala-conservation-center-home

Posted in Community Spotlight, Ocala Style Features

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