Little Red River Park hosted a combination of wilderness adventure and outdoor education as the Wildernook Day Camp took place on Thursday.
Roughly 100 children ages 8 to 12 registered for the event. Claire Miller the director of Wildernook Fresh Air Learning, said they partner with Prince Albert and other cities to create events to welcome the public to get out and experience nature.
“It is like an outreach invitation to rediscover and get connected with local places that are so special, and Little Red is phenomenal,” Miller explained. “It is one of the most beautiful places in the province. It's gorgeous.
“It is such an ideal setting. There is so much to do within walking distance of the parking lot.”
Wildernook created the experience in consultation with Erin Hurd, the City of Prince Albert's recreation programmer, and playground coordinator Rachel Pelechaty. The event filled up in two days after online registration opened.
“There was a huge uptake,” Hurd said. “(It’s) a free event, free transportation, (and) working with Claire is wonderful. She specialized in outdoor education. She has a teaching background … so she's really good at what she does and Prince Albert doesn't, as far as I'm aware, offer anything like it.”
“We have this fabulous, biodiverse, really beautiful site that's on the edge of town, so why don't we mobilize these people, utilize this space, and provide a really great day camp experience for the kids,” Miller added.
Staff members created a pilot version of the Wildernook program last year. They limited participation to a small number of youth due to COVID, but were happy with the results. It worked so well they decided to scale up the design for 100 children in 2022.
“It really was very affirming because we had such a slick program and the staff were awesome,” Miller said. “We really, I think, achieved all of our goals. We had a pretty awesome debrief at the end of the day. We (thought), ‘wow that went well.’”
Miller said that it was great for her to come back, since she grew up south of Prince Albert. She’s always been impressed with Little Red, and was happy to find a way to get more people out there. She was also happy to work with the City of Prince Albert.
“I am somebody who cares about Little Red and it's neat to be able to use my skills in a way that benefits an organization that is up and running and already has the staff and a relationship with the kids through the playgrounds programming,” Miller explained.
The various stations were set up to interest children in the 8 to 12 age bracket. The stations helped develop self-sufficiency and team building skills through things like starting ‘microfires’ using flint and steel, and building tarp shelters.
Elder Liz Settee was also on hand to lead the children on walks. A smudge was also available.
“We were planning so that they could have learning time that hooked their interest,” Miller said.
“We tried to provide a day that was challenging but also had a wellness component. We kind of pumped up their confidence. We provided some opportunities for positive social interaction that was really age appropriate for them too.”
Lessons also include a talk about respecting the wilderness. During the Smudge, attendees learned about the plants and some of the medicinal benefits.
The sessions also included some unstructured time, which made it less like a school setting, where there is programming for the whole day.
“This was done through what were called 'hang out stations',” Miller explained. “(We had) one in a clearing with hammocks and slacklines and other unstructured activities.
“If you think about in high school how there is kind of a rec room or a student lounge, we are trying to go for that vibe. This is something they can get into and we found that the kids gravitated if they needed time to just chill in a hammock that helps them self-regulate.”
She explained that it was also nice for the staff because it gave them a break from providing instruction all of the time.
“We had two of those stations that were built into the rotation and then the other one and it was at the beach, so kids were playing in the sand with digging and climbing and all of that kind of stuff,” Miller said.
Both Miller and Hurd were pleased with how the day went.
“I think that myself, Rachel and Erin, we feel proud of the accomplishment of bringing those kids out to spend time at Little Red and to be able to use the Little Red as an educational site,” Miller said. “It is a really wonderful educational site and we hope that just shows what is possible out there.”
“The kids really enjoyed it and the uptake was great, and the weather was cooperative,” Hurd added. “We lucked out yesterday. It might have been a little muggy by the end of the day but it was all good,”
The event was made possible through the Saskatchewan parks and Recreation (SPRA) – Parks for All grant.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald