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DOWN TO EARTH: Plenty to learn out in the woods

We got 15 classes safely out to Gavin Lake for at least a version of the Gavin Lake fall program

Jenny Howell

Special to the Tribune

Well, we did it.

We got 15 classes safely out to Gavin Lake camp for at least a version of the Gavin Lake fall program.

There were no overnight stays, no spaghetti or hot dogs and no chores, however, there were still four educational and fun modules, friendly, informed instructors (and dogs), and free time to run around outside on the obstacle course, climbing wall or hone some archery skills.

The Gavin Lake fall program, free for schools in SD27, 28 and 74, has been running now for about 25 years and is primarily aimed at Grade 6. Usually students come for two nights and three days and can settle into camp life, learning, playing and contributing with chores such as dishes, cleaning bathrooms and helping with firewood. Funding to keep the program free comes from generous local donations and grants. The Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society has sponsored two (of the usual six) instructors for around 20 years.

READ MORE: Imperfectly perfect through small, consistent lifestyle changes

With the arrival of COVID-19, things at Gavin Lake changed fast. Overnight stays with parents chaperoning students in cabins were not an option. So the day program emerged as a solution; the SD27 bus garage kindly freed up a bus so that classes could arrive early and stay late to fit in as much as possible. Kids and teachers bundled up as all activities remained outside no matter what. This year, parents had to stay home, and we opened it to all age groups since Quesnel and 100 Mile House schools were unable to come with the distance.

The beginning of the season started well with sunshine and yellow leaves, but by the last couple of weeks, we walked kids through the forest in the rain and sleet, shot arrows into the snow and broke the ice to find aquatic insects.

Surprisingly there were few complaints and most kids happily dealt with whatever was thrown at them. The Conservation Society sponsored the ‘Wood Wide Web’ (focused on trees and the water cycle and tree communication), and ‘The perfect stream’ (what fish need to thrive). We played water cycle games and pretended to be fungal mycelia spreading messages between trees; learned about water quality, aquatic insects and constructed a healthy ‘perfect’ stream out of blue boards, rocks and logs. The two other modules were canoeing (which became the highly exclusive sport of snow canoeing by the last week) and archery, always the kids’ favourite.

As we waved the bus away each evening, there was always a slight pang that these kids don’t get the experience of sitting around a campfire, running around the camp in the dark playing mission impossible, or whispering to their friends in their bunks. Some of the younger ones will have a second chance next year; and with vaccine hopes rising many of us are daring to imagine things may be ‘normal’ again for next year’s program. Just like so many things right now, this year’s program was different, but we found a new way through that was so much better than doing nothing at all.

Water Wise Tip: Install a low flow shower head to cut shower water use by about 60 per cent.

For more information on Water Wise or Waste Wise and any of our school and community programs, contact the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society at or visit the website at

Jenny Howell is a Water Wise instructor and the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.

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