Rian Fried, August 10, 2023
On Thursday, August 3, five Lake Tahoe Ambassadors, led by Arlo Beckman, traveled to Skylandia State Park to run a short program with Camp Skylandia campers. Originally scheduled as a single-hour program, the day turned into a nearly three-hour event of environmental education, art, and exercise. The campers were split into two groups based on age and rotated through stations offered by the Ambassadors. Each station consisted of two Ambassador presentations followed by a related activity.
The first station was all about water, with presentations on Drink Tahoe Tap and invasive species in Lake Tahoe. The first presentation focused on promoting the use of reusable water bottles and the benefits of local water use.
The second presentation focused on spreading awareness about several species of concern inhabiting the lake, and the campers were informed about the dangers that invasive species pose. In particular, two invasive plant species were focused on: Myriophyllum spicatum, or European watermilfoil, and Potamogeton crispus, or curlyleaf pondweed.
The included activity taught the campers how to identify the invasives based on key characteristics and how to identify the invasive species and native lookalikes. In order to strengthen their knowledge, the children made wanted posters for either species, including small snippets about how best to identify them and embellishing them with their own creativity. Several of the children even objected to the covered species, explaining that there were more invasive species to focus on in the lake, such as smallmouth bass, and chose to create their posters on those instead.
The second station covered terrestrial topics. The first was a bear awareness talk, focused on educating the campers on the impacts humans have on local bears and how that alters the bears’ behaviors. They were also given information on good precautionary measures to take in order to reduce negative bear-human interactions, stressing the importance of proper trash maintenance.
The second presentation focused on wildfires and was given by Javier Sanchez, an ambassador with previous project experience on the work of wilderness forest firefighters. Javier explained the negative impacts of wildfires on human development and natural systems but also educated on the positive roles that wildfires can have and their historical impacts.
The ground station activities were more physical, with an educationally focused game of “fire tag.” The tagger pretends to be a budding forest fire, with each of the other players representing the natural constituents of the forest. As the fire and tag game progressed, more and more “ecological components,” or campers, succumbed to the fire, forming one massive tagger blob, all holding hands. At the end of the game, all campers had been tagged, and the greater message had been fortified into their heads: forest fires work fast and, without proper land management, can consume everything in their path.
After seeing how enthusiastic the campers were about each activity, the Ambassadors extended the day. For each presentation, the campers were engaged and actively responding with their own personal stories or knowledge. They became less like presentations as originally intended and more like conversations. After being asked what they learned at each station, the campers were able to recall many key points from all activities.
As exciting as these activities were for the campers, they were just as exciting for the Ambassadors. Spending an afternoon educating a summer camp on how to best take care of Lake Tahoe was a privilege the Ambassadors won’t forget. They look forward to future collaboration with Camp Skylandia, and maybe even one day seeing some campers become ambassadors themselves.