After School Adventure Club: Exploring Nature and Community at Camp Ondessonk

After School Adventure Club: Exploring Nature and Community at Camp Ondessonk

After School Adventure Club

Camp Ondessonk has long been a place of adventure, learning, and self-discovery for individuals of all ages. Recently, the Camp has introduced a new initiative that brings the spirit of exploration right to the doorstep of Vienna High School. The After School Adventure Club, an exciting and innovative program, provides students unique opportunities to connect with nature, engage in physical activities, and give back to the community.

The After School Adventure Club is a collaborative effort between Camp Ondessonk and Vienna High School. Vienna High School, located in Vienna, Ill., is the primary partner in this endeavor. The program aims to allow high school students to explore the great outdoors, develop leadership skills, and become more active community members.

Led by Dr. Evan Coulson, the After School Adventure Club welcomes a dynamic group of 14 students ranging in age from first-year students to juniors in High School. This modest-sized group allows for more personalized experiences and fosters a strong camaraderie among its members. With the potential for growth and increased interest, this club holds immense promise for expanding its reach in the future.

After School Adventure Club: Exploring Nature and Community at Camp Ondessonk

Southernmost Illinois, home to the Shawnee National Forest, several scenic state parks, the Tunnel Hill State Trail, the River to River Trail, and the Cache River State Natural Area, has long been a beloved outdoor recreation destination in the central Midwest with relatively easy access to outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, birding, disc golfing, horseback riding, paddling, rock climbing, backpacking, and trail running. Regions of the U.S. where outdoor recreation opportunities abound benefit from direct and indirect economic development. The Outdoor Recreation Industry Association has determined that the Outdoor Economy contributes more to US GDP than other major economic drivers, including the oil and gas industry. The southernmost Illinois region is poised for outdoor recreation tourism to become a notable economic driver. Vienna, Ill., is a gateway community to the Tunnel Hill State Trail, the Cache River S.N.A., and multiple S.N.F. entry points. It is well-situated to take advantage of this potential economic development. Students will benefit from exposure to outdoor recreation opportunities to broaden awareness of the region’s experiential resources. Furthermore, participation in outdoor recreation has been shown to increase personal physical, emotional, and social well-being metrics. Experiences in natural settings have been shown to improve cognitive function, restore attention, and enhance mental health in people of all ages. 

The Southern Illinois Coalition for Outdoor Recreation and Education (C.O.R.E.) promotes place-based and experiential education opportunities for regional high school students through the curation and dissemination of curricular resources; the training, support, and development of faculty and staff; the facilitation of regional partnerships between schools and outdoor education providers; and the research and development of funding opportunities. C.O.R.E.-aligned outdoor adventure clubs can create a unique opportunity to introduce local high school students to outdoor recreational experiences and skills that can not only aid in their physical and mental well-being but also position them to participate in the growing outdoor recreation economy post-graduation through the development of awareness, skills, and leadership competencies.

The heart of the After School Adventure Club is its engaging and diverse range of activities that encourage students to step outside their comfort zones, explore the natural world, and serve their community. The primary activities include:

Biking: One of the program’s highlights is its emphasis on biking. Students can hit the trails, develop their cycling skills, and explore the Shawnee National Forest’s picturesque landscapes. Biking promotes physical fitness and encourages environmental awareness as students witness the beauty and fragility of nature firsthand.

Hiking: Camp Ondessonk provides an extensive network of hiking trails that wind through lush forests and showcase breathtaking vistas. Students embark on hikes ranging from short and educational nature walks to more challenging and scenic treks, which offer a chance to learn about the region’s unique flora and fauna.

Outdoor Service Activities: Community engagement and service are essential to the After School Adventure Club. Students can participate in various outdoor service projects, such as trail maintenance and various community cleanup tasks. This initiative instills a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the environment while contributing to the betterment of the local community.

The After School Adventure Club is primarily funded by Vienna High School and Camp Ondessonk. Both organizations recognize the program’s value in promoting physical activity, environmental awareness, and community involvement among its students. However, there is potential for the program’s financial structure to evolve if the Illinois State Board of Education (I.S.B.E.) grants funding in support of initiatives that align with the After School Adventure Club’s objectives.

The After School Adventure Club at Camp Ondessonk is an excellent example of a program combining outdoor exploration, physical activity, and community service. By introducing students to the wonders of the Shawnee National Forest, this initiative not only encourages them to become more active but also instills a sense of environmental stewardship and community engagement.

After School Adventure Club: Exploring Nature and Community at Camp Ondessonk. Students exploring at Ondessonk

V.H.S. Outdoor Adventure Club After School Program Goals are:

  1. to increase V.H.S. student awareness of regional outdoor recreation opportunities and resources;
  2. to increase V.H.S. student comfort in outdoor recreation environments;
  3. to increase V.H.S. student competency in basic outdoor recreation skills;
  4. to increase V.H.S. student competency in basic outdoor living skills; and
  5. to connect V.H.S. students with regional peers who have similar interests.

Intended Outcomes: Assessment Instrument: Pre and Post or Post-then-Pre Survey

CollaborationCommunicationOutdoor Recreation
Competency in establishing group normsCompetency in speaking in front of peersAwareness of Resources
Competency in establishing group goalsCompetency in effective persuasive writingAwareness of Opportunities
Competency in establishing group goalsCompetencyCompetency in Prior Proper Planning
Competency in task delegationCompetencyCompetency in Outdoor Living
Competency in implementing plansComfort with waiting in silenceCompetency in Outdoor Recreation Technical Skills
  Competency in Outdoor Resource Stewardship Skills

Curricular Components:

CognitivePsycho-Motor (outdoor technical skills)Affective
The’ 10-Essentials’ for safe outdoor recreationOn and Off-Trail HikingEstablishing Trust
The ‘7-Principles’ of Leave No TraceMountain BikingEffective Communication
Basic Outdoor Living Skills (outing/trip planning, clothing selection, nutrition, water treatment, fire, shelters, foot care, etc.)Flatwater CanoeingCollaborative Problem Solving
Basic Land Navigation (topo maps, compass use)Top Rope Rock ClimbingGroup Dynamics
Shawnee NF Natural & Cultural HistoryOrienteeringConflict Resolution
Conservation HistoryDisc GolfLeadership Roles & Skills
Service Learning: Trail building/maintenanceOutdoor CookingDecision Making
Basic Emergency Response/Care Risk Assessment, Mitigation, & Management

With an eye on a brighter future, the program anticipates the potential expansion of both its funding sources and the number of students involved. As more young minds embrace the After School Adventure Club, the positive impact on the local community and the environment will undoubtedly grow.

In conclusion, the After School Adventure Club at Camp Ondessonk offers Vienna High School students a unique opportunity to connect with nature, develop leadership skills, and actively contribute to the community. As it continues to evolve and expand, this program has the potential to foster a new generation of environmental advocates and community leaders.

Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s Outdoor Education Programs.


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