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W.E.T. (Wetland Education & Training) program at Pretty Lake Vacation Camp

Tad poles, crayfish, and leeches, oh my!

This year, several organizations partnered to help obtain funds and deliver the Wetland Education & Training (W.E.T.) program to more than 600 3rd – 5th grade campers at Pretty Lake Camp. The program was designed to introduce children to the wetland habitat, teach them about the creatures that live there, and how pollutants can affect the whole watershed. Gary Wager, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, spearheaded the effort and brought together parties from Pretty Lake Vacation Camp, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Nature Center, Kiwanis Club of Kalamazoo, and Parchment Schools. Parties contributed funds, wrote the curriculum, and supplied staff and training.

Pretty Lake Vacation Camp (PLVC), a 96-year old non-profit organization, has a primary mission of providing totally cost-free summer camp programs to more than 800 at-risk children each summer. With its 250 acres of protected land, nature studies have always been a part of the summer program. “It was great being able to partner with others for funding and programming this summer,” said Lisa Ruiter, the Camp Director at PLVC.

The Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC), now in its 51st year, is focused on inspiring people to care for the environment by providing experiences that lead them to understand their connection to the natural world. Angie Lane, KNC’s primary Environmental Educator for the W.E.T. program at PLVC summed up her experience saying, “I enjoyed being able to teach at Pretty Lake Vacation Camp this summer. Many of the children that came to our program had never explored in the muck and mud of a lake. The amazement that would shine in their eyes was a priceless experience! I love being able to encourage children to step beyond their comfort zone, do something new, and discover that they actually enjoy doing it. That’s the best thing about teaching in general, is encouraging children to like something they previously didn’t like doing!”

Small groups of campers were supplied with boots, buckets and nets for their wetland experience. Every child was encouraged to rummage in the water for larva, small fish, tadpoles, leeches, crayfish and more. A collection tub was kept so everyone could see all the exciting finds. Each animal and specimen was described, examined and, at times, affectionately held and talked to. They were then released back to their natural habitat.

“The W.E.T. program is very popular with our kids. They learn so much with out even knowing it!” said Lisa Ruiter, amid the squeals and laughter of the young explorers. “Angie and I are happy to have had the opportunity to share our enthusiasm for the natural world and teach children along with the Pretty Lake Camp staff. We not only educated staff about the watershed, but we exemplified how to connect with the children on a level to absorb the information presented,” said Pete Stobie.

Special thanks to those who made this program possible:

Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition: Gary Wager, Executive Director. Founded in 2007, the Coalition advocates for the best possible cleanup of the Kalamazoo River superfund site. www.kalrivercleanup.org.

Pretty Lake Vacation Camp: Lisa Ruiter, Camp Director and Sue Jones, Development Director www.prettylakecamp.org (269) 375-1950

Kalamazoo Nature Center: Peter Stobie, CHI Education Director, Angie Lane, Environmental Educator, Dan Keto, Lead Interpretive Naturalist, Elizabeth Rochow Lead Environmental Educator, Jenny Metz, Camp Director, and Kristi Montgomery, Registrar www.knc.org 269-381-1574

Kalamazoo Community Foundation: Jessica Aguilera, Community Investment Manager www.kalfound.org (269) 381-4416

Kiwanis Club of Kalamazoo: Jennifer Hauschild and board members www.kalazookiwanis.org

Parchment Public Schools: Jodi Heaney, middle school teacher

For more information about the organizations that helped make this program possible, please visit their websites or contact them directly.

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