The Starting Sparks of Environmental Stewardship


By Alex Griffith

Copper Environmental Foundation is a longstanding grantor to our local Summer CATCH Camp program. The Foundation is employee-managed and funded and has a natural partnership with KSS as we both seek to educate our youth and community on environmental stewardship through building genuine connections with the outdoors. This blog post by Program Manager, Alex Griffith, shares how our combined efforts help our local and youngest youth build connection with our beautiful outdoors.

A common thread runs throughout Keystone Science School’s summer programming: a wish to teach campers about their impact on the natural world.

That’s not to say this is all we do, by any means—camp is still camp, and there’s time for singing, crafts, and group games that don’t always have clear connections to environmental science. Those connections are there, however, from five-year-old day campers reciting some (and sometimes all!) of the seven Leave No Trace (LNT) principles, to high school campers on backcountry expeditions conducting stream surveys to learn about alpine water quality.

Leave No Trace is, naturally, one of the key parts from which all of our camp programs are built, and from the get-go, campers are taught that aiming to uphold the LNT principles is a noble goal.

Notably, however, it’s a goal that doesn’t require perfection. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect kindergarteners to be on the lookout for durable surfaces to walk on all the time, but if we can teach them that rocks and dirt are better to walk on than wild grasses or moss, that’s a core tenet of an environmental ethic that can be grown and expanded upon as they grow and, if they want to, spend more time outdoors.

LNT is a great tool for teaching about the spectrum of stewardship, a spectrum that stretches from the bare minimum of picking up your granola bar wrapper on a hike all the way to fire and water management strategies that impact the way humans are organized across the globe.

Speaking of fire: in the last week of our summer camp curriculum, campers learned about fire in western Colorado. Campers made public service videos about fire management strategies. Campers learned about serotinous pine cones, talked about defensible space, and investigated water and how it informs our relationships with fire.

At the end of the week, our campers, spread throughout elementary schools in Summit County, had made brief videos (with endearingly DIY production quality) with made up characters finding themselves in impossible situations that somehow all led back to fire. Voiceover narration by elementary schoolers is always entertaining, especially when it’s getting into the weeds about how some pinecones only release seeds when they are heated to a certain temperature.

This is what KSS is all about: connecting children and youth to the outdoors that surround them and helping them to think about their role and responsibility in enjoying the areas we all love. A majority of day campers this summer are Summit County locals. Even though they live here, their families don’t always have access to the wild spaces that make Summit County such a special place for so many people.

Getting campers out into the forests and creeks of the Rocky Mountains and teaching them a few small and foundational things about how the natural world works and what role they can play, even as a small child, in protecting it is incredibly rewarding as an Instructor. It’s the spark that leads a one week day camper to become a steward for the natural world which so clearly needs them.