Bobcat camp mixes fitness and nature


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Roughly 40 kids entering either the first or second grade are being given the opportunity to appreciate the very essence of summer thanks to the University of Iowa Recreational Services’
Bobcat Camp. It is one of the many camps offered by the service, with each of them spending a four days in the Macbride Nature Recreation Area.

It’s a nature camp, but the staff makes sure the kids stay fit and active.

The camps offer a multitude of summer activities to students up to the 11th grade. The students can experience canoeing, archery, swimming, disc golf, rock climbing, ultimate Frisbee — all outdoor activities that get the kids moving. The process begins at the Hatchling and Bobcat levels.

Meredith Caskey, the supervising coordinator of the program constantly makes changes on the fly in an effort to expose the campers to as much as they want to experience. Her staff is committed to the same common goal: to keep the kids moving, thinking, and learning as much as possible and to balance mental and physical activity.

Recreational Services has run camps such as these since the summer of 1985. Its partner for a portion of this week is the nonprofit organization Macbride Raptor Project, a jointly sponsored organization between Kirkwood Community College and the UI dedicated maintaining the population of Iowa’s birds of prey.

Luke Hart, a camp assistant, has been a member of the Raptor Project for around six years. Although the goal of the camps is for the young ones to enjoy the outdoors and get a quality hands-on experience, Hart is also there as an educator for the curious minds. That means when they don’t have their hands busy, their other senses are put to work.

“Absolutely, the birds of prey draw their interest the most. They’re absolutely fascinated by how big the raptors are,” Hart said. “The stories that each of these birds has to share about the effects of not only things that can happen in the wild but how humans are connected to them make it a really good link for them to wildlife.”

It didn’t take long for that link to be evident — the camper’s awareness of their environment during their hike helped them identify an osprey flying overhead. It thrilled them to be able to apply the knowledge learned from the week thus far, and the counselors couldn’t be any more ecstatic that their words weren’t falling on deaf ears.

One of the campers, Owyn Noble, has attended a load of sports programs in his childhood. This wildlife experience drew positive comments from him, because of how it combined the physical activities that he enjoys with intriguing exhibits such as a bald eagle.

“I’ve done tennis, baseball, basketball, and soccer,” he said. “This is the same kind of good time and workout, though. The Raptor Center was my favorite so far.”

The week will culminate with Caskey and her staff putting on a Bobcat Olympic Games. Her plans for the event are interesting in that they mostly incorporate staying cool during their activities. Relays through waterfalls, wearing frozen T-shirts, making ice cream, and melting ice, all the name of friendly competition, should help Caskey make the last day of camp the most exhausting of them all.

For her, exercise is part of the summer experience and the experience of the natural world.

“Overall, our goal is to have fun in the summertime but also to learn about the environment,” she said. “You just have to be outside taking part in the hands-on activities in order to get that authentic summer experience.”

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