Tin cans, Rattlesnakes and Rifles: A Wild Kidz Experience in Oliver

The BCWF held its second week of 2012 freeday camps in Oliver, B.C. The first morning began with numerous icebreaker games including tin toe, a game where kids had to pass around an empty, large coffee tin using only their feet. At first glance the kids thought the game was going to be too easy, but after several failed attempts to get the tin passed around the circle, everyone quickly realized this was going to take some serious skills and even more patience. The kids cheered and encouraged one another on, offering up advice on how to be more successful each round. One group surpassed the record held in the earlier camp by making it over 15 times around in a circle by the end of the session.

On Tuesday morning, we travelled to Osoyoos to visit the NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre where we enjoyed a guided hike through the unique desert ecosystem and learnt about the Okanagan First Nations culture. We were educated on the ceremonial and medicinal uses of native sagebrush. The interpreter mentioned how sagebrush is burnt and the smoke is used to remove negativity from the home; she included a personal story on how her mother used a great deal of sagebrush while her and her sisters reached the teenage years. The tour concluded with a question and answer period in a recently constructed pit house. While the cultural portion of the tour was interesting, it was the rattlesnakes that intrigued the campers the most. The highlight of the tour was when we were able to spot an endangered western rattlesnake hidden out underneath a bridge we were walking over. Back within the confinements of the air-conditioned cultural centre, I’ve never seen the campers so hushed as to when one of the staff members brought out a resident rattlesnake aptly named Goliath. For most of us, this was our first up close glimpse of the endangered species.

As one of this year’s volunteer Children’s Programming Facilitators, I developed a wildlife skull and pelt section where the children had to use a series of facts and clues described on cue cards to properly identify which animal belonged to which skull. It was fantastic seeing the kids’ minds at work as they tried to deduce which skull most likely resembled that of a herbivore with large incisors, or which pelt would be used by a semi-aquatic animal. Many of the kids were eager to hold the muskrat skull which was easily identifiable by the zigzag-like formation of the molars. For many, it was the first opportunity to feel the fur from a lynx foot, or the hide of a moose.

Other sessions included a survival lesson on how to make a whistle from scrap metal, a skill many parents “thanked” us for as kids continued to proudly demonstrate how loudly their whistle could blow as they got in the car for the drive home at the end of the day. Another seminar was spent learning about the various types of trees within the region; afterwards we were able to bring out our inner Van Gogh as we carried chairs out into the field and were given pointers as we used pencils and water colours to recreate our own artistic interpretations of the landscape.

One afternoon was spent honing our shooting skills where everyone got an opportunity to shoot .22 rifles. We stapled water balloons for the campers to aim at, and thanks to some helpful hints from Joan McKay and Lindon Springer on how to properly shoot firearms, every single kid was able to hit a balloon, most even did so on their first attempt. We then shot at score sheets and clay targets that were scattered around the range. I was amazed at how all of the kids were such sharp shooters.

The final day was spent fishing at Tuc-el-nuit Lake, a rewarding way to end a week of activities in the hot and dry desert climate. In the early morning, many of the campers tried  some fishing. One key moment was when a kid caught a fish, and as he was reeling it in, a turtle came out and stole it from off his line. A camper turned to me and said,

“I guess you could call this the circle of life.”

The kids took turns burying each other in the sand until it was time to head back to the Sportsmen Association headquarters for Bear Aware training and birdhouse building. Unbeknownst to myself, we had a multitude of carpenters in the camp, and the birdhouses turned out beautifully. Some kids went the extra mile and decorate theirs with felt markers with the hopes of providing a more appealing exterior for the birds.

The camp concluded with a delicious bbq dinner hosted by the generous members of the SOSA who were not only great hosts, but brilliant cooks. It was a heartwarming sight to see all the campers with their families, showing off their newly made birdhouses, rifle score sheets and autographed camp shirts. It was a wonderful experience to see kids connecting with nature in all of the many hands-on activities throughout the week. Their sense of awe and intrigue was captivating. A special thanks to the members of the South Okanagan Sportsmen Association who kindly lent us their clubhouse for the week, and to all of the volunteers who assisted in the daily activities. Lastly, I would like to pay recognition to our financial sponsors, the Province of British Columbia, BC Conservation Foundation, and Hunting BC, for allowing this wonderful week to be a shining success.

Click here to see more photos from this camp on our Flickr set!

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