COA offers nature camp for middle school students

A new outdoor vacation camp for grades 6-8 will be held in the diverse and breathtaking habitats of Mount Desert Island during February and April vacations, led by experienced camp staffer Lucy Atkins, senior at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

Based out of the Dorr Museum, “Natural History Explorations” camp will run Monday through Friday over February and April school vacations from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with one overnight in the museum on Thursday night. A weeklong session costs $75, covering gas, lunches, snacks, overnight meals and materials.

Photo courtesy of Heather Wight. Lucy Atkins, senior at College of the Atlantic, is organizer of "Natural History Explorations," a camp for grades 6-8 being held during February and April vacations in 2012 at the College of the Atlantic.

“People are really excited about it, and its only the first time this camp has been held,” said Atkins in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “The February camp is almost full.”

Natural History Explorations is Atkins senior project, a requirement for her to graduate from COA with a degree in human ecology. Since the camps are student-organized and staffed, there’s no guarantee it will continue next year.

Each program is a full-day, weeklong experience. While there are only a few spaces available in February, several slots are open for the April camp.

“We’re going to be outside as much as possible, depending on the weather,” said Atkins. “We’ll see what we come upon. There’s going to be a lot of exploration.”

The weather and environment will change drastically between the two vacations, so Atkins will be planning different activities, including outdoor scavenger hunts. In February, the small group (about 10 students) will read animal tracks in the snow and peer under the ice to understand the winter life of riverine invertebrates.

Though the exact locations for their expeditions are yet to be decided, Atkins knows the island well and is considering places such as Aunt Betty Pond and Breakneck Pond to explore the life of beavers. She also plans to bring the group to higher elevations, such as Champlain and Dorr mountains, and to compare these habitats with more sheltered locations.

Annie Cohen, a third-year student at COA who also has experience working at outdoor summer camps, will be co-leader in both programs.

For the past six summers, Atkins has worked at Morse Hill Outdoor Education Center summer camps in Massachusetts, her home state. And from her experience, she thinks children benefit from exploring their natural environment, asking questions and digging in the dirt for answers.

“This is a pretty outdoorsy school,” said Atkins of COA. “A lot of people that go here, in general, know a lot about the wilderness, but they talk about it a lot more than they actually go outside. So I ask myself, what’s wrong with this picture?”

Atkins is interested in how education might help strengthen the connection between people and their environment.

Last winter, Atkins helped facilitate outdoor activities at Mount Desert Elementary School, such as snowshoeing, ice fishing, building snow shelters and taking nature hikes with students. And this fall, she completed an eight-week internship at Chewonki‘s Outdoor Classroom in Wiscasset.

Atkins is a Wilderness First Responder and lifeguard. She has spent her time at COA studying natural history, working at the Dorr Museum, and getting out in the woods and mountains of the island.

Her co-leader, Cohen, who has been studying education and ecology at COA, is certified in Wilderness First Aid.

Both are CPR-certified.

While Atkin’s experience as an educator helped her organize this project, it is her experience as a camper that made her passionate about outdoor education in the first place.

“As a 13 or 14-year-old, I would come away from those one-week camps just glowing because my camp leaders were so amazing and I’d made some really great friends,” Atkins said. “Good memories of learning cool things in a wonderful place can be life-changing.”

For information, call Lucy Atkins a 413-896-5773 or send her an e-mail at

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at