Sunlight sparkled on the small pond next to the Northland Arboretum and half a dozen bright kayaks plied the water.
For many of the young paddlers, it was their first time piloting a kayak.
"It's harder than it looks," said Ben Hanson, 10, of Nisswa.
A group of boys fresh off the pond described the outing as fun and a good time to spend with friends and a little wet. Friday's kayaking was the last day of a week-long Arboretum Outdoor Camp. Fifteen students were part of the pilot program, which the arb hopes to expand to 50, even 100 students next summer.
"It's been great," said Jack Steinke, the father of two of the boys and uncle of another. "The boys come home every day just as excited as they can be."
Travis Steinke, who lives south of Brainerd, was in a kayak for the first time. Steinke was one of the students in the Northland Arboretum's Outdoor Camp, a pilot program to provide children with an exposure to nature and outdoors activities. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
And that's just what Dale Braddy, arboretum executive director, wants to hear. Braddy said he was shocked by how many children have a nature deficit.
"We need to change that," Braddy said. "There is not a better place to do that than the arb."
The campers learned how to read a map and use a compass. They learned survival skills in the woods and what essentials to put in a handy portable survival kit when they go hiking.
"I've liked how we had a lot of hands-on experiences and learn stuff you usually wouldn't have learned other places," Hanson said.
Jeff Kidder of Kidder Kayaking and student Alexa Merriwether, Brainerd, went over paddling techniques before she took to the water Friday in the pond by the Northland Arboretum. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Hanson and 9-year-old Sam Nesheim of Baxter were quick to help another student move a kayak closer to the water.
"I've really liked pretty much everything," Nesheim said.
Events included testing pond water samples, learning duck calls, hiking, planting trees, building blue bird houses and taking nature photos. Students learned about flowers and habitat, bird and mammal identification, reuse and recycling. A ceramic art project used flowers and grasses to make impressions for a medallion and wall hanging.
For Christopher Krueger, Steinke's 11-year-old nephew, the kayaking was the favorite part of the week. Travis Steinke, 10, who was kayaking for the first time, said he enjoyed spending the time with friends.
"My favorite was going on the walks and seeing the animals," Hanson said.
Just seeing natural settings appealed to several of the children.
"It was really fun," Wyatt Steinke, 13, said after he was back on shore and out of the kayak. Other highlights included duck calling and learning to use a compass. "I enjoyed going outside on the trails and walking and seeing the birds."
Alexa Merriwether, 10, of Brainerd, enjoyed the shorelunch when the students learned how to prepare a meal with walleye. Merriwether was looking forward to making friends at the camp.
"I thought it would be really fun and I could meet some people," she said.
Jeff Kidder, of Kidder Kayaking and an arboretum board member, volunteered his time during the week.
"They've enthusiastically done everything," Kidder said of the students. "They did a great job with the pictures."
The winners of the student photo contest were being surprised with an outing with a professional photographer. Krueger came in first place in the photo contest for his picture of a fallen tree. Mackenzie Marden came in second, Nesheim came in third and Merriwether was fourth. Ian Murrey won the mallard call contest.
Braddy said the arboretum hopes to hire an outdoor educator for children and adults.
As for the pilot program, Steinke said he was impressed with the variety of activities offered during the week. "This is great for them," Steinke said of the students. "It's a good fit for a number of kids."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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