Fall Family Field Trips coming to Camp McDowell

Farm life is part of Camp McDowell. Classes on harvesting food and bringing it to the table will be given on the field trips this fall.

NAUVOO - Many, if not all, local schools have no field trips planned this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Family vacations could be at a standstill. But right in Winston County’s backyard is a spectacular place that is offering families time together.

Camp McDowell, located off of Highway 195 near the Walker and Winston county line, is planning events this fall sure to please the whole family. Beginning this month,  getaway field trips with events for all ages are being offered, with weekend options also available.  These field trips will be spread over a three-day and two-night trip, with the option to add additional days. For families who want shorter trips, Camp McDowell will be offering day passes for families to come explore on their own or with guided canoe and hiking trips.

The field trips are possible thanks to two divisions within the camp teaming together: the McDowell Farm School and the McDowell Environmental Center. Reservations are being taken from Sept. 2 through Dec. 4.

Through the two divisions, classes on geology, animals on the farm, harvesting food and chores on the farm will be given, along with hiking and campfires at night.

Core and optional classes are Aquatic Adventures; Down To Earth/Rock Query; Nature Hike/Forest Connections; Hop, Slither & Slide; Art In Nature/Authors and Explorers; Native Americans and the Earth; Trail of Discovery; Meet a Map; Survival Skills; Farm To Table; Farm Fauna; Plant It Earth!; Food For Thought; Big, Bug World; Farm Ecology and Sustainability and Hard At Work

The field trips came about due to the pandemic and the camp instructors’ own children who are living at camp. Since there was no school, the instructors decided to teach them the normal curriculum offered to the regular camp clientele.

“COVID-19 is forcing us to be creative and putting our two programs together and doing something like this is a dream,” Beth Dille, director of the environmental center, said. “It’s like giving a family or a group of people the experience we feel living here.

“Families are struggling right now. People need the emotional, mental and spiritual break. Everyone has been stuck in their houses,” Dille added.

Dille mentioned people are wanting to get outside in a recreational setting, yet they are afraid of the virus. An example she gave was of a water park where as many as 60 people could be in close contact. However, she ensured safety measures are being taken at Camp McDowell.

Staff are wearing face masks while in groups and practice routine hand washing. Temperature checks are performed on staff daily, and of course social distancing applies. Some of the hands-on classes are adapting to the social distancing rules.  An example of this is the procedural changes of guests milking the goats. Meals in the dining hall are served buffet-style by one kitchen staff personnel. Households will be called one at a time to receive the food. Also, recreational equipment will be sanitized after use.

“It’s 18 hours of programming, half being with the farm and the other at the environmental center,” Dille explained. “We’re offering the same classes we do for schools. It’s just more unique because it’s what that family wants.”

Seven families will have a field trip in October and will be split into groups, Dille said. The morning will be spent on the farm with goats and maybe planting. In the afternoon, they’ll be taking a class on geography.

The classroom on the farm is not a traditional room, but the barn, much like the environmental center classroom is outdoors.

“Kids get to interact with the animals,” Scotty Feltman, director of the farm school, stated. “We talk about adaptations (of the animals).”

Feltman also discussed some of the animals are on the farm for butchering and then eating, and eggs are gathered for breakfast.

“We’re explicit, and we’re real. We have the conversations when kids ask. We don’t shy away from tough questions. We tell them the truth of it.”

Goats, pigs and chickens are some of the animals on the farm.

A planting and gardening identification class is also one of the areas the farm concentrates on with the groups.

“All they have to do is book, and everything else is taken care of for them, like the food and lodging. This is a special place, and no one’s getting to see it right now. Hundreds of kids who were supposed to be here this fall aren’t going to be here,”  Dille said.

Camp McDowell is situated perfectly on Clear Creek, which provides a learning opportunity in aquatic wildlife, with large bluff lines and unusual geological features. The camp is a 1,140-acre outdoor and environmental classroom.

Prices start at $165 per person for the whole experience, meals and lodging included.For more information on what classes your family can take, what the experience will look like, what types of lodging you may choose or how  Camp McDowell is planning to keep everyone safe, please contact Dille at mecdirector@campmcdowell.org or call (205) 387-1806, ext. 109.

See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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