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Florida camp instills respect for the environment

Florida camp instills respect for the environment

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida camp instills respect for the environment

Aug. 18, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0899}

NOTE: This article was produced and distributed Aug. 14 by United Methodist News Service.

An e-Review Feature
By John Gordon**

Sam Ruev, Megan Bowen and Aaron Lewis help Riverside Retreat camp director Martha Pierce plant a cypress tree at the United Methodist camp near Fort Myers. A UMNS photo by John Gordon. Photo #08-0968. For longer description see photo gallery.

LaBELLE — Summer campers at the Florida Conference’s Riverside Retreat get their first lesson in conservation as soon as they sit down to eat.

First, they are issued plastic drinking cups to reuse during the weeklong camp, instead of drinking from disposable cups that can clog landfills. Next, the food they put on their plates but do not eat is weighed — a demonstration of how much food is wasted. In all, the 65 campers leave behind 25 pounds of food scraps from their first meal.

“It’s kind of insane how much we really just take for granted, we just throw out,” says camper Megan Bowen, 16, of Fort Myers. 

“People shouldn’t waste food because prices at the store are just getting higher and higher,” says Jah’nae Dunlap, 14, of Bradenton.

At the next meal, the amount of wasted food drops to 10 pounds.

“We talk about how recycling affects landfills, how the waste affects landfills and ways they can go home and make changes that are positive, “ says Martha Pierce, director of the United Methodist camp.

Steven Galloway, 17, and camp director Martha Pierce weigh a bucket of food scraps not eaten by campers. A UMNS photo by John Gordon. Photo #08-0969. For longer description see photo gallery.

Twice a year, Pierce structures camp activities around the theme of conservation. The sessions are designed for youth in the second grade through high school.

“We’ve got to teach the kids now not to waste and how to take care of the environment, so that they can raise their children to respect it in the same way,” she says.

A master naturalist, Pierce is intimately familiar with every palm-lined path through the 150-acre property along the Caloosahatchee River.

As she leads walks along a nature trail, she points out beauty berries, used for making jams and jellies. Some believe oil from the plant leaves repels insects, and the campers try it to drive away the mosquitoes buzzing the trail.

“I live in the city, so it’s not too much you get to see,” says Stephen Foster, 14, of Leesburg. “So I’m glad to get out here.”

Pierce points out a string fern growing from a large tree. “This plant only grows in areas where the atmosphere is clear and clean and the water is, too,” she says. “So it’s a sign that the environment in the camp is healthy.”

Another camper enjoys the time away from electronic gadgets.

“With the computer and cell phones and everything, definitely, kids my age don’t get out and get to enjoy the stuff that goes on out here,” says Mary Hucker, 17, of Englewood. “And it’s a shame.”

Pierce started the conservation camps three years ago after noticing a trend among both adults and children.

Instead of using a disposable water bottle that will end up in a landfill, Somoleyah Roberts, 13, drinks from a reusable bottle. A UMNS photo by John Gordon. Photo #08-0970. For longer description see photo gallery.

“We have removed ourselves from nature,” she says. “I just loved being outside, and I was blessed by having a family that taught a respect of nature and to work with nature. So I’ve grown up and gone through life with that attitude.”

At Riverside Retreat, campers can kayak along the river or plant cypress trees on the bank.

“I think it’s a beautiful place,” says Rachel Tennyson, 14, of East Fort Myers. “And it should remain as it is right now. People shouldn’t be able to tear it down.”

Preserving the natural beauty of Riverside Retreat is a top priority.

“If I make a mess of it now, and if we continue not to care because we’re too selfish, our grandkids won’t have this,” says Pierce. “And we will have robbed them of the most precious thing we have, because what are we without fresh air and clean water?”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Gordon is a freelance producer based in Marshall, Texas.