Fourteen intrepid explorers joined BRDC for four days and three nights of adventure packed fun during the Blue Ridge Explorers Camp.
Camp began with a Naturalist Journaling lesson to set the tone but then shifted to serious leisure with "Hammocking 101" by Joe Flowers.
Attention quickly turned to the river where we set minnow traps and did some snorkeling with Lisa Benish.
The day finished with a little Appalachian heritage lesson and a friendly competition of classic Highland's games. With a little time left after dinner we hiked to the ridge to play games, watch the sunset and catch fireflies.
That night, the skies cleared and the stars sparkled. We got out the 60x birding scope and studied the moons of jupiter. We could see Jupiter's red lines but we were all stunned at how well we could see the ring around Saturn.
The second day kicked off with a birding hike where we studied the riparian corridor of the New River. Ultimately the camp observed or heard over thirty species of birds. The most surprising find though was a gnarly male hellgrammite resting in the grass.
Upon return to camp, Joe Flowers led a basic compass navigation course and tree climbing lesson.
That afternoon we loaded into kayaks and headed for the river! The kids led a 3 hr paddle down the New, seeing a Bald Eagle nest, lighting a spark fire on an island to dry off, and discovering a Mallard nest in the weeds. They also ditched their boats and navigated the rapids on their backs to get some wet time.
After dinner it was time for some local old time tunes around the campfire! The Yates family band tuned up their instruments along the river and picked the evening away with the kids joining in the chorus! Dessert featured the camp favorite: campfire grilled banana boats!
As night approached, so did massive thunderstorms from West Virginia. The camp battened down the hatches and weathered the worst of it in the vehicles. Half the kids were enthralled by the display of lighting and thunder, the other half were terrified. They all survived the night and we let them sleep in a bit the second morning.
We began Friday with an exploration of the mixed hardwood forest where we found lots of salamanders. Drew's sharp eyes even spotted a tiny spring peeper on a leaf!
The hot and sunny day called for a swim in the river, but this time we put on life jackets and headed for Field's Dam where they kids leaned into the water gushing over the dam, floated down the rapids and leaped off the rocks. Instead of walking back to camp we floated like a big human raft downriver. At the exit Caroline found a dragonfly that had just hatched out of it's case!
Not having had enough, we packed the cars with a picnic dinner and hit the road to the second highest peak in Virginia: Whitetop Mountain. Hiking down to Buzzard's Rock we studied 1 billion year old Cranberry Gneiss, marveled at the grassland balds, searched for salamanders along the woodland slope, filled up our canteens in a spring, slipped into the fern laden spruce forest and watched the sunset from the most beautiful vista in the east!
Even after a day like that, the kids were not done. When we got back to camp they rolled their sleeping bags out on the grass to watch the stars, then begged to get the scope back out. After studying the usual suspects we turned our sights towards satellites. Reece was able to locate the international space station and two of us got to view it very clearly through the scope!
After a peaceful night's sleep the camp woke to a foggy morning and a Bald Eagle sitting on a snag across the river. After some coal baked apples for breakfast we headed out and Amelia and Caroline led us to some rocky slopes and wetland bottoms for exploration.
The camp finished up with one last swim in the river and a little bit of fly fishing. At lunch, Joe demonstrated the most traditional form of fire building: friction fire with a bow string. To put a nice cap on a great camp a bald eagle did one final soar over camp to say goodbye and the kids charged up the hill to their parents as full of energy as ever!