Thanks to an America’s Best Idea Grant from the National Parks Foundation, Wilson’s Creek was able to host an Explorer Summer Quest Camp for 9-12 year olds during the month of June. The camp consisted of two five-day sessions with participants from the RepublicParks and Recreation program. The week of June 16-20 participants included 30 nine and ten year-olds. The second week, June 23-27, there were 20 eleven and twelve year-olds attending the camp.
While some of the children had previously visited the park with their school classes, the purpose of the camp was to give students an in-depth experience at the battlefield. Each day was filled with a wide variety of interesting activities, and campers were kept busy learning about all aspects of the park.
The week’s scheduled activities—
Campers listened to a presentation by Mark Shipley from Lawrence Photo about the history of photography and the importance of photography in the Civil War. They were given disposable cameras to record their week’s activities and for a photo contest sponsored by Lawrence Photo. On day one the campers were also introduced to the Junior Ranger Program by Lexie Hammon, a Junior Ranger at Wilson’s Creek. A showing of the VisitorCenter film as an overview of the battle was followed by a presentation with librarian Jeff Patrick, who showed the campers examples of soldier and civilian letters and journals and spoke about the important information they can give us as researchers. Campers made their own journal to record their activities for the week. A first busy day!
Campers met at Stop 5 on the battlefield with reenactor and volunteer Larry Toll, who issued each camper a wooden rifle and taught them how to drill. Some of the campers tried on the wool Union and Confederate uniforms and determined them to be both hot and itchy. Ranger Toll talked with them about the tedium of camp life, how soldiers learned to take care of themselves, and the importance of letters from home. We had arranged for the campers to have letters from home, and Ranger Toll had a mail call. After mail call, campers wrote a letter home in their journals, imagining they were soldiers at Wilson’s Creek. After lunch campers learned about Civil War music from Joe Loftin, and he taught them some popular camp songs.
Day three was about family life in the 1860s. Campers met at the Ray House and were given identify cards representing members of the Ray family, the family of slave Aunt Rhoda, or wounded soldiers. Each camper acted out his or her role—John Ray sat on the porch drinking coffee and waiting for the battle, the Ray children carried water from the spring house, and wounded soldiers wails could be heard as they lay on the lawn. Everyone got to go into the cellar where Mrs. Ray and her children waited out the battle. Later in the day activities moved to the Edward’s cabin, where campers saw how other less prosperous Ozarks families may have lived. Campers tried on period clothing and played with period games and toys.
Thursday was nature day. Staff members from Wonders of Wildlife brought some animals indigenous to the park to the VisitorCenter for the campers to see. This activity was followed by a hike on Bloody Hill with Craig Young from NPS Heartland Inventory and Monitoring. After lunch at the Edward’s Cabin, Theresa Johnson, also with Heartland, spoke to the campers about the importance of protecting the water quality at Wilson’s Creek. Everyone examined water samples, using nets to find debris and live creatures in water taken from Wilson’s Creek.
The last day of the camp was all about our National Parks. Several of the Wilson’s Creek staff spoke about their responsibilities at the battlefield, as well as the history of the NPS and career opportunities. Campers learned about preservation of artifacts and were able to see some of them up close, thanks to a wonderful presentation by the archival staff. By far the favorite presentation was the law enforcement ranger who gave the campers a demonstration of rappelling and fire-fighting gear. Friday ended with each camper taking a pledge to protect Wilson’s Creek and other National Parks, after which they received Junior Ranger badges and certificates of completion.
After the week’s activities, we hope that the campers left with new information about what happened at Wilson’s Creek, an understanding of how the battle affected the entire community, and a new appreciation of the importance of protecting its historic and natural resources.
Special thanks to Mary Beth Breshears and Cheryl Loftin, who directed the camp, to the staff of the Republic Parks and Recreation Department who accompanied the campers each day, and to the staff at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, whose knowledge and expertise was an excellent addition to the camp programs.