Words from the Woods: from ponies to tide-pools

A few impactful words from NextGen Outdoor Camp’s Outdoor Education Specialist Skyler Schmidt.  Skyler is a Washington native who spends his off-season teaching elementary school in Pacific Beach, and his summers teaching NextGen students how to embrace the wild places of his home state with confidence.  Skyler, aka “Geoduck,” has a special talent for creating off-the-cuff song lyrics which feature NextGen’s fieldtrips that can get even the most serious middle-school students giggling.  We are so pleased to have Skyler with us this summer! 

Watch out Bill Nye! NextGen Outdoor Camp instructor Skyler Schmidt gets into character to lead an exciting community science activity.

“There would be very little point in my exhausting myself and other conservationists themselves in trying to protect animals and habitats if we weren’t at the same time raising young people to be better stewards.” -Jane Goodall 

As a NextGen Outdoor Camp leader (and during the school year a 4th grade teacher) I view it as my professional responsibility to exhaust myself in helping to create the next generation of environmental stewards. The words above strike me as I reflect on our week’s activities, the wonderful natural places we visited, and the incredible mentors we had the opportunity to meet.

Growing up around Washington, I was lucky enough to be able to hike, fish, camp, and otherwise enjoy our beautiful state. However, as a young person, my knowledge of this land was mostly limited to place-names, and how a visit might directly benefit my entertainment.  Through NextGen’s work this summer (and specifically this week!) I have seen sparks ignite in the eyes of our campers as they recognize how awesome our natural world and the creatures that inhabit it are. Just as importantly, I have witnessed gears beginning to turn as students begin to see how their own actions impact that natural world, and, with any hope, can help sustain it.  Here’s a glance back at last week’s activities.

Joe Rein, Alpine Evergreen forester, talks turtles with NextGen Outdoor Campers.

On Tuesday we had the pleasure of meeting with Joe Rein, an Alpine Evergreen Co. forester. His job is to manage Alpine Evergreen’s lands and plan current and future logging operations. Joe explained to students the importance of sustainable logging and how, when managed appropriately, it can be a very important tool for conservation efforts. Joe led NextGen Outdoor Camp students on a guided hike of a working forest and identified different trees, plants, and animals. We also got to see the impact of beavers on habitats and some bear scat! 

Tina Meekins provides encouragement to one of NextGen’s first time riders.

Moving into the afternoon, our campers got to work with Tina Meekins of the Whole Horse Place. Tina takes in many super-senior horses and horses who need some extra TLC. For many, this was a highlight of summer! We got the opportunity to learn about how a horse ranch works by learning how to brush, clean, and saddle horses, clean stalls, and learn basic veterinary care. Additionally our campers got to literally take the reins and take a riding lesson! 


Thursday we had the pleasure of going to Lion’s park in Bremerton and meeting with Jeff Adams, a marine scientist and veritable encyclopedia of saltwater and freshwater organisms. We learned what real scientists do in terms of observation — students were tasked with really looking and observing a small section of beach and why that was important. While two groups broke off to do that, two other groups were working with Jeff to learn how and why scientists measure the slope of beaches and learn about the tides and what the impact is on the organisms that live there. 

Marine scientist Jeff Adams identifies a student’s low-tide find as Turkish towel seaweed.

There was a specific reason we chose this week to work with Jeff — it happened to coincide with one of the lowest tides of the year. This gave campers an awesome opportunity to do some exploring in the tidelands. Our students were overjoyed and fascinated by the plethora of life around and, sometimes, right under their feet. Ghost shrimp, starfish, barnacles, spider crabs, and many different types of seaweed were just some of the organisms we got to interact with. After carefully handling and replacing these organisms back into their environment, we broke for some tasty, tasty sandwiches and free time. 

Jeff Adams helps NextGen students look for invertebrates in Stephenson Canyon.

Our afternoon took us to Stephenson canyon for a look at some of everybody’s favorite freshwater organisms — bugs! Specifically, how insects and other types of organisms can be indicators of local water quality. After a short hike, Jeff provided the tools to be able to track down these indicators and what they, well, indicate. 

As we begin to wind down the summer and NextGen outdoor camp, I am continually impressed by our mentors and our campers. From the first week to now I have seen friendships form, confidence grow, and the next generation of outdoor leaders and stewards emerge. Over the next two weeks more incredible experiences await — I’m excited and privileged to watch our campers meet those experiences with kindness, respect, responsibility and, arguably most importantly, eager spirits.


Skyler (Geoduck) Schmidt