The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation last year received a $20,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to fly northern Virginia summer camp participants to nearby Virginia state parks.
Thanks to the remaining funds, other field trips were able to take place this year.
“We were thrilled when we found out we had money left over to do this program again at the parks this year,” said Ken Benson, district superintendent of Virginia State Park Potomac. “These field trips provide such a positive experience and can have a lifelong effect on young people. This partnership allows us to connect the next generation to the parks and highlight the importance of conservation.
Leesylvania, Widewater and Mason Neck State Parks welcomed youngsters ages 6-16 in July and August and offered a range of recreational activities such as kayaking, archery, canoeing, fishing, swimming, biking and hiking.
The programming included educational and interpretive elements that explored both the natural and historical resources of each park.
Guided by US Fish and Wildlife Service Visitor Services Specialist Carina Velazquez-Mondragon and her team of interns, participants began their day in Mason Neck learning the basics of archery.
“For many attendees, this was their first time using a bow and arrow,” said Taylore Willis, assistant superintendent of Mason Neck State Park. “They learned the anatomy of the bow, how to determine which eye was dominant, proper shooting stance, safety rules and even had the opportunity to practice shooting standard targets. Not only is archery a recreational and competitive sport, but it is also an acceptable method of hunting in various parts of Virginia. This exposure can become a point of interest for participants in which they will continue to seek opportunities. »
The purpose of the field trips is to open up opportunities for members of underserved communities and show them all the amenities that Virginia state parks have to offer.
“The small group size allowed for a very personal experience for attendees,” said Widewater State Park Visitor Experience Manager Jamie Leeuwrik. “It was a pleasure to see participants get excited about learning new skills such as learning to fish from shore and playing the game called Terrific Turkeys, which helps them learn about the relationship between prey (turkeys), predators (foxes and snakes) and their resources. As a park that continues to grow rapidly, discovering new communities has helped staff better understand what will attract future users to the park.”
Leesylvania State Park hosted wildlife and fishing activities to help teach attendees about hunting as well as preserving natural habitats.
“Potomac River seining, fishing, a bird migration game and visitor exploration were some of the programs offered to the youth,” said Ericka Goines, visitor experience manager at the Leesylvania State Park. “The VOF trip theme showed how fishing has changed over time and how waterfowl and other animals depend on all bodies of water and wetlands to survive. In the visitor center, we focused more on identifying different fish as well as invasive species versus non-invasive species. The kids had the chance to feed snakehead, bluegill, bluefish and sunfish and see their hunting instincts in action. It was a very fun day for all involved.
The funding comes from VOF’s Get Outdoors grant program and was awarded to DCR for its proposal to increase underserved communities’ access to outdoor spaces, establish healthy habits among young people and showcase potential career paths in natural resources and recreation to program participants.
The goal is to continue field trips in the coming months in Northern Virginia under the current grant.
DCR plans to submit an additional proposal to VOF for another round of funding to expand the program to other parts of the state.