Any one of several reasons could be why children return year after year to conservation camp at Hickory Run State Park sponsored by the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. Along with lots of fun activities is the opportunity to make new friends, learn about the environment and eat great homemade food.

The camp was held this week at Camp Shehaqua.

Children from all over the county gathered to learn about bats and bob cats, collect bugs, make tie dye shirts and crafts, go rafting and swimming, spent time in the kitchen and climb trees.

Oh there are plenty of the regular tree climbing going on, where you grab hold of tree branch and swing your leg to step higher and higher into the tree, but youngsters this year could nearly disappear into the tree tops with the help of some specialized tree climbing equipment that had the campers clambering for more.

Franklin Klock, naturalist, said that allowing the children to climb into the tippy tops of giant trees is safe and helps the campers build their muscles.

"We received a $3,000 grant from the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness for outdoor exercise," said Klock. The grant payed for more safety harnesses, ropes and helmets. Klock brings his expertise.

"We received the grant because they liked the concept of outdoor exercise," he said.

Klock said that he was looking for a way for kids to get more involved in exercising in the out-of-doors when he stumbled on tree climbing.

"Kids like to climb trees anyway," he said. "With this equipment, the kids can go higher and once they try it, its hard to get them back down to the ground."

Klock said the equipment was developed by Peter Jenkins, who was an arborist. Klock said that after Jenkins retired, Jenkins missed most about his job was the fun he had while climbing, so he combined the equipment used by tree surgeons with that used for rock climbing and developed the equipment for this high adventure sport that is safe, fun and uses a lot of large muscles.

"The kids use their core muscles and their legs and arms to pull themselves up the tree," he said. It was also apparent that they needed to control their descent and that also made them use their muscles.

"Nearly all of the counselors are former campers," said Susan Gallagher, chief naturalist. "The kids keep coming back year after year."

"This year we made tie dye dirt t-shirts," said Klock. "We used mine acid to color the shirts."

The homemade food is another reason the youngsters love camp. Each year the staff makes fresh food for each meal. The day starts often starts out with blueberry pancakes and gets better with each meal. Meals are topped off with homemade cookies, cake and fresh churned ice cream.