RAPID RIVER - The "Kids in the Woods" program began its seventh season as 65 kids from the Alger Parks and Recreation Department and Delta County Northern Lights YMCA came together at Big Springs State Park.
The fun-filled day started with the lighting of the sacred fire where kids got the chance to learn about how special the land and nature is to the Native American culture while also participating in the actual lighting of the fire.
This was just the beginning of the day as kids also drummed, sang, made crafts, took part in a trivia game about nature in Michigan, and went out on the raft to learn about Kitch-iti-kipi through observation and discussion.
A group of Delta County kids have fun taking part in Native American drumming during the Kids in the Woods program at Big Springs State Park.
Above, from left, Addison Blowers, Kassidy Labay, Maci Cornish, Cienna Schultz, Jack Carlson, and Sami Bloniarz take part in the special ritual of starting the Sacred Fire while attending the Kids in the Woods program at Big Springs State Park.
Above, Tessa Salo and Savannah Lassila participate in Native American drumming at Big Springs State Park which hosted the first Kids in the Woods session of the summer.
The day ended with all the kids playing active games that taught them about nature and how wildlife relies on each other to survive.
The Kids in the Woods program is designed to get kids outside and away from their televisions and video games while enabling them to be active in the great outdoors and reconnecting with nature on a personal level. Kids are given this opportunity through outdoor activities such as kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, and fishing. Educational activities will include animal adaptations, wildflowers, trailblazers and trackers, a fire-building contest, team-building, and building bluebird boxes.
Other unique programs being offered this season are a live raptor presentation, learning about the voyageurs through song, an interpretive tour of the old town of Fayette, and playing 1890s style baseball. Throughout the summer kids will be bused to different sites in the Hiawatha National Forest and to Michigan State Parks.
"I'm excited to start another season with the Kids in the Woods program and to help give these kids a great opportunity to connect with nature," said Nicolas Moreno, Kids in the Woods program coordinator and Hiawatha Interpretive Association intern. "Finding that connection and learning an appreciation for nature by exploring different areas of the Hiawatha National Forest and some of Michigan's State Parks is a wonderful experience for these kids and I'm grateful to be a part of it."
The Kids in the Woods program is a huge success in large part due to its many supporters. Ralph Lundquist, project manager for Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County stated the "big aspect of the Kids in the Woods program is that kids get out of the house and away from their computers."
He went on to say how beneficial it is for the kids to "gain experience and knowledge by being in a natural environment while observing nature and that it is great to see youth so interested in being outdoors."
Steve Carpenter, director of the Day Camp program at the Northern Lights YMCA of Delta County is a strong supporter of the Kids in the Woods program. He said the program "is a wonderful part of our YMCA Day Camp. When we are at the Y, we try to teach our Y core values: respect, responsibility, honesty, and caring. Each day we show those values to each other. But with KIW, the values are expanded to the earth. Kids in the Woods shows that the world around us, under us, and above us has a direct relationship to the world in us."
The U.S. Forest Service has been behind the Kids in the Woods program from the beginning. The Kids in the Woods program shares a lot of the values in which the U.S. Forest Service prides itself. Joanne Sanfillipo, district ranger at the U.S. Forest Service's Rapid River office agrees, stating, "today's children are America's future caretakers. Their understanding and connection with nature now improves their ability to care for the health of the nation's forests and grasslands as adults. This is the Forest Service mission."
Another vital supporter of the Kids in the Woods program is the Hiawatha Interpretive Association. Danita Rask, president of the Hiawatha Interpretive Association Board said Kids in the Woods is significant because it "enriches kids' lives by helping them appreciate the natural and cultural resources we have in this area. These resources may not be available to them through other programs or from their home life."
She added: "The program will continue as long as HIA can secure the financial resources to keep it going. We just received $28,000 through a U.S. Forest Service grant for KIW and this, along with the financial commitments of our partners, will maintain the program for future years."
Upcoming Kids in the Woods venues for the 2014 season include: July 24 at Indian Lake State Park for Delta County YMCA, July 30 at Grand Island National Recreation Area for Alger County Parks and Recreation, August 6 at Clear Lake Education Center for Alger County Parks and Recreation, and August 14 at Peninsula Point Lighthouse for both Delta and Alger county kids.
Fayette State Historical Park also served as a venue on June 26 and July 9.
The Kids in the Woods program is a partnership between the Hiawatha National Forest, Hiawatha Interpretive Association, Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County, 4All Incorporated, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Northern Lights YMCA of Delta County, Alger County Parks and Recreation, and numerous volunteers. Parents can register their kids for Kids in the Woods by calling the Northern Lights YMCA of Delta County at 789-0005. The Kids in the Woods program is included in the weekly summer camp program or kids can sign up for just KIW for $25 per session. Kids in the Alger County area can also participate in Kids in the Woods by calling 387-5636. Cost for attending KIW in Alger County is $15.