The longest-running summer camp in the Methow Valley, Methow River Camp, recently wrapped up its 33rd year of operation for the summer.
(If your kid isn’t one of 24 youngsters who had the chance to participate in either of the two sessions of the five-day camp, you’re not alone; registration opens in February and the two camps filled within hours.)
Methow River Camp is an ecology camp, founder and co-director Dana Visalli said, and he’s gratified to report that “our young people are very interested in learning what exactly ‘ecology’ is — how the world works.”
Guided by Dana, Rob Crandall, Anaka Mines and Katie Russell, the campers focused on “the fact that every atom and molecule and nutrient necessary for life cycles through the planet and/or the atmosphere,” Dana said. Together, they came up with a list of about 25 elements necessary for life.
“It is interesting to note that all of the elements necessary for life were delivered with the Earth formed,” Dana said. “There are no more elements arriving from space. If they are not cycled, life would come to an end.”
This concept of a cycle inspired the group to utilize a composting toilet at camp, rather than a nearby chemical toilet. The composting toilet decomposes human waste into an organic matter that looks and functions like dark soil.
The leaders introduce aspects of ecology and human history, like the transition of humans from hunting/gathering to agriculture. In a photo from the camp, a bison skull represents hunter-gatherer society and a sheaf of wheat represents agriculture. Both sit atop a propane fireplace, representing fossil fuels, a finite resource that makes the current human population of 8 billion possible, Dana said.
The campers also learn to canoe and then paddle a 5-mile stretch of the Chewuch River. They become familiar with most of the edible and useful plants of the area, as well as learning how to make things like strong rope using dogbane and mats using tules, Dana said.
Three teen counselors help the adults with each session, and this year’s camp included two “mascots:” 7-year-olds Sage Mines and Ranger Russell, who, given their lineage and exposure to Methow River Camp, are poised to take the helm of the camp one day.
The camp also includes a hike to Copper Glance Lake, complete with a very brief swim in the “turquoise-blue water of the lake, which is colored by ‘glacial flour,’” Dana said. “That is, rocks that are still being ground up by a small glacier buried under the scree that is a relic of the last ‘Ice Age.’”
Campers always enjoy the “Procession of the Species,” when they get to choose a species to learn about and then make a mask of that species.
The final day of camp is dedicated to the River Camp Olympics: campers compete in skills learned during the week, from a canoe race on the river to identifying bird songs played on a computer. “Everyone turns out to be a winner,” Dana said.