Fun is ahead for children ages 8 to 12 at Carbon County Environmental Education Center's Conservation Camp. Camp begins Monday, August 12 at 9 a.m. and runs through Friday, August 16 at 4 p.m.

Registration is required. Applications are now being accepted for Conservation Camp. The week-long event takes place at Hickory Run State Park, and allows children the opportunity to connect with nature through hands-on, feet-in activities. For more information, or to begin the registration process, call CCEEC at 570-645-8597.

"Kids Are dropped off by their parents on Monday morning and picked up on Friday afternoon," explained Susan Gallagher, chief naturalist at Carbon County Environmental Education Center. "We stay at Camp Shehaqua in Hickory Run State Park. It sounds like an old Native American name but it isn't. When they first built the camp, they had kids from Shenandoah, Hazleton and Tamaqua, so it was named Shehaqua."

"There is your standard camp fare: bonfires, sports and crafts, but there is also a lot of environmentally related activities. People come in and talk on different topics, and we have programs where they learn about wildlife, plant life, local environment, and local history of Hickory Run State Park.

The highlight of the week is a water rafting trip which receives sponsorship from local businesses. Whitewater Rafting Adventures runs the trip. Kids are assigned rafts with adults, and they run the summer float section of the Lehigh River. "If they are rafting, they usually see a lot of birds on the Lehigh River."

"It's the favorite of the kids," Gallagher said. "At the end of the week, we have them write a letter to the sponsor and say what they liked best about camp, and it's usually rafting."

"Kids like just being outside and playing," Gallagher said. "We ask them not to bring any electronics - no cell phones or electronic games. The only thing with a battery is a flashlight."

"On Monday, they may be a little nervous because they don't know each other and they are out of their element because they don't have all those little gadgets with them. But by Friday, it's like they completely forgotten them. It's like they are different kids."

"They like building dams, inventing their own games in the woods, building huts out of sticks and branches. They will all know each other and become best friends. By the end of the week they are exchanging email addresses and phone numbers."

"Usually we have a falconry program. One year the Game Commission brought a bear that they were tagging. He was tranquilized. We usually have someone come in to do a reptile program, so they get to see snakes and turtles."

"We usually go out on a hike and look for frogs and toads and salamanders and teach them a little bit about amphibians. We bring in a program called Mad Scientist. One year, they had a program on the science of making slime. Another time, they did the science of the five senses and had the kids do experiments with their sense of taste and touch.

One problem - the camp has access to a pool, but because of State budget cutbacks, there's no lifeguards. Anyone interested in lifeguarding for the camp should contact the CCEEC.

For the first night or two, the kids my be a bit scared in the dark, but by the third night, they are enjoying watching the stars. Former campers often return and help the younger kids adjust to the camping experience. The children sleep in cabins that sleep two or four. There is no electricity in the cabins.

This is the 25th year for the camp program that started in 1988 when Judy Wink was chief naturalist, although Gallagher has been with the camping program since its inception.

"Camp is a nice chance to work with kids for a longer period of time then when they come to the Center for field trips," Gallagher said. "To be able to spend a whole week with them, especially kids they come back year after year, just to see the changes in them and the ways that they think, and when something clicks in the brain and they get it - they learn something, that's a nice experience."

Carbon County Environmental Education Center's Conservation Camp charges a fee for the camp, although it is partially underwritten by contributions from area businesses. Enrollment is limited to 25 children with residents of Carbon County having priority in selection.