Authored by Luke Grange, senior education specialist at the Belle Isle Nature Center.
“Can we write on this?”
The campers looked hopefully at the butcher paper-covered tables and cups of markers. When they were told that indeed the markers were for drawing on the tables, they happily got to work drawing, signing their names and making their mark.
This was the scene at the Belle Isle Nature Center’s Winter Nature Camp on Jan. 3. Those campers had just arrived at the Nature Center’s first camp since 2019. The campers didn’t seem to mind the layoff as they drew rainbows, birds and the odd video game character as they got to know one another before breaking up into age groups to go explore outside.
The Belle Isle Nature Center’s habitats and interactive exhibits celebrate places in the city where you can connect with the natural world. Similarly, campers experienced both the natural and man-made portions of Belle Isle ― walking on top of deer prints and under willow trees to explore the rarely seen inside of a covered footbridge. Fire hydrants poked up from alongside the trails like steel mushrooms as raptors flew overhead.
Campers loved building their beginner birding skills at Winter Nature Camp. Brittany Leick, program coordinator of the Detroit Audubon, assisted Winter Nature campers in learning to identify seven local, colorful birds and then practicing how to use binoculars. Campers also visited the bird viewing window and learned about the ultraviolet patterns inside the glass that the Belle Isle Nature Center installed to help make the windows bird safe. Campers then got to paint their own bird shapes to put on their windows at home.
The new Belle Isle Nature Center was thoroughly enjoyed by campers. Children visited the young learner’s space to act as ants and move giant seeds and dirt throughout the tunnels. They experienced life in the pollinator hallway as a bumblebee, seeing the normally invisible UV patterns that flowers advertise to insects. Each day, the campers would find something new to do in the space.
At the end of the week, campers were asked to draw their favorite camp activities. Almost everyone mentioned spending time out in nature with the new friends they made. As they had made their mark on the tables over the course of the week, adding to their drawings with each meal and snack, campers had made their own mark with the friendships they had formed.
Registration for Winter Nature Camp was done through community partners in Detroit. A waiting list was used for any remaining spots. Summer Nature Camp enrollment will happen the same way and is coming soon! Stay connected with the Belle Isle Nature Center website for updates.
The Belle Isle Nature Center is located at 176 Lakeside Dr., Detroit.