Camp hopes to spark girls’ interest in the outdoors

by | Mar 27, 2024 | ALLFFP, Environmental, Outdoors

Confidence may be the secret to getting more young women active in outdoor recreation and natural resource careers. And few things build confidence quite like being able to start a fire or pitch a tent, according to Nancy Stalik and Jen Gron with Friends of the Rappahannock. 

Stalik is the education director for the nonprofit, and Gron is the field trip manager. Together, they have formulated a plan to reach young women in the Fredericksburg region with some help from the Duff McDuff Green Jr. Fund. 

No strangers to the grant program that targets outdoor activities for youth, FOR will be using its recent $4,000 award to purchase tents, sleeping pads, tarps, and cookware so they can host a girls-only summer camp with an overnight event.  

The group is hoping a summer camp just for rising 7th- through 9th-grade girls will be the perfect lure to hook them on the outdoors for a lifetime. 

“It was Jen’s idea to have a girls’ camp in the summer because we’ve all noticed as environmental educators that when we have a mixed-gender group, the girls don’t speak out as much.” Stalik said. “The boys just kind of jump in, which is fine. We love the boys, but we would like to see the girls fill out the space more.” 

This year’s grant requirements included a focus on mental health, so Gron and Stalik decided to create a camping experience along the Rappahannock River that builds on social-emotional learning objectives.  

“Our hope is that through this camp, girls will build confidence, and learn new skills and experience all the decision-making that comes in a camping environment,” Stalik said. 

“It’s a slightly older group than we do with some of our other camps,” added Gron. “But in this age group, we feel like the girls will have the physical strength to do some of the tasks that we’re looking at.

“And that’s a tough time for a lot of girls. It’s middle school going into high school. We thought this would be a good opportunity to help lift them up and strengthen their skills.” 

Part of the weeklong camp structure will include connecting campers to women who work in natural resource positions within the watershed. Stalik noted that FOR has a female forester, a female oyster restoration specialist and a female green infrastructure specialist. 

“We want them to see some of the careers and options that women have in natural resource protection and some of the things that our amazing strong women are doing for the river,” Gron said.  

“Friends of the Rappahannock is really kind of a unique place— we have a lot of women that work in our environment, which is not common for natural resource protection.” 

Some of the highlights of the camp will be a visit to a conservation nursery with a staff forester who does urban tree planting, learning tree identification, planting trees, visiting the Tappahannock portion of the river and learning about tidal influences, learning about oyster restoration and exploring a National Wildlife Refuge. Each day will pair career exploration with fun: hiking, nature journaling, kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming and one overnight camping adventure. 

Gron noted that there are a lot of groups developing online for women in outdoor activities, but they are usually adult-focused. “We want to build a community of younger women who want to be outdoors and help them develop skills to feel comfortable and safe.” 

Being afraid of embarrassment or looking like they don’t know how to do something is as much of a barrier as a lack of equipment, says Gron. “We see messages everywhere that it’s not safe for a girl to be outdoors, in the woods. People can’t believe a woman would go somewhere without a guy to take care of her. That’s not reality. I want to change that narrative.” 

The all-girls camp is June 24 through 28. Sign up for all camps at www.riverfriends.org 

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