Last weekend, Corazón Latino and our partners from the USDA Forest Service, Park Rx America and Unity Health Care hosted an overnight trip to NorthBay Adventure Camp. If you’re not familiar with NorthBay, this place is absolutely amazing. Located a half hour north of Baltimore, NorthBay provides a place for families to get away from the city and spend some time in the great outdoors in a safe and comfortable way. For those who choose to sleep indoors, the cabins accommodate up to 12 people and are clean, comfortable, and equipped with restrooms and showers. For those interested in a more rustic experience, tents are already erected for use with sleeping bags and mats provided. The site hosts a mess hall in which all meals are provided, a general store, an indoor theatre, and a long list of fun activities like ziplining, a ropes course, sling swing, indoor gameroom, and basketball court.
Our group, which consisted of 30 school kids from Baltimore’s Wolfe Street Academy and 30 individuals from diverse families in the DC metro area, arrived at NorthBay at different times on Friday, May 11th. Those of us from the metro area hadn’t anticipated the two extra hours of driving required to escape DC traffic, so we got there a little later than we’d planned. Regardless of our tardy arrival, we were given a delicious ribs, cornbread, and pizza dinner before heading down for a short, guided nature walk.
Our guide took us down a paved path to a wetland area, reminding us to pay attention to the sights, smells, and sounds along the way. As we listened quietly, we were able to hear an array of soft noises made by crickets, frogs, and other little nocturnal creatures. We learned that wetlands are the “recycling centers” of nature. How, you ask? Wetlands collect organic matter, such as dead plants and animal waste, and with the help of bacteria and fungi, break down or decompose the matter into nutrients that can be used all over again. Oh, and this process lets off a gas that sometimes smells like rotten eggs, but we learned that the hard way.
Next we did some stargazing and s’mores-making. It was a beautiful night so there weren’t too many clouds blocking our view as the guide pointed out the big dipper. We soon found the North Star and navigated our way to the beach for a bonfire (just kidding, we walked about 30 yards down a nicely paved path). Then came the s’mores. I’ve never seen so many marshmallow-roasting techniques! Some people straight up lit them on fire, while others took a more nuanced below-the-flames approach, toasting them to golden brown just over the fiery red coals.
While the younger kids were running and playing, everyone else sat around the fire and chatted for a while. One mom talked about how nice it was to be able to experience the outdoors as a family. Our large group joined in an icebreaker that helped us to remember one another by naming adjectives that described the person’s character. The rest of the evening was spent laughing and talking together before retiring to our cabins (or tents, for those who were feeling extra adventurous).
The next day we woke up, had breakfast, and did the “Wobble” and the BioBlitz dance with our Forest Service friends to begin the day. Yeah, you heard me. We wobbled. If you had to rank government agencies by dancing ability, Forest Service would be number one, but I digress. The dances loosened everyone up for a morning of learning and civic science activities.
We used iNaturalist to identify and document different plants and animals at NorthBay. One of the younger kids stumbled upon a “weird looking bug,” that we were able to identify as the invasive brown marmorated stink bug. This opened up a discussion about invasive species, such as the brown marmorated stink bug and emerald ash borer, and how they’re affecting the environment around us. Emerald ash borer has been killing ash trees at an alarmingly high rate in the United States, but what does that mean for you and me?
Trees provide us with more benefits than you might think. For example, if there are trees planted around your house and in your neighborhood, it might prevent your house and community from flooding after a rainstorm. As it rains, water collecting on the ground is absorbed by the trees’ roots, while raindrops are intercepted by leaves in the trees and by fallen leaves, also called “leaf litter,” covering the ground. Trees planted near your house can even save you money on heating and cooling! Using a program called iTree, and a fabulous tool called MyTree, we were able to easily calculate these benefits for different trees we saw around NorthBay. By the end of the activity, people were talking about ways they could get more trees planted in their neighborhoods and around their homes.
The rest of the time was spent exploring the grounds, and there were plenty of things to do (zip lining, ropes course, basketball, kayaking, you name it). Needless to say, but by the end of the day, everyone was both tired and invigorated from our time spent in the fresh air by the bay. We’d managed to fit camping, citizen science, exploring, and s’mores all into 24 hours! It was a weekend filled with trees, friends, and family and we can’t wait for our next great adventure discovering the forest (and more).
Big thanks to Keith Williams and the NorthBay team for this amazing experience!