Summer camp director unexpectedly finds her niche with children |

Summer camp director unexpectedly finds her niche with children

Laura Brown
Submitted to The Union

Submitted photo

Though she never imagined herself teaching groups of school children, Corinna Kirkland Caplan has found her niche.

This summer marks her first season as camp director for Bear Yuba Land Trust's Earth Encounters Nature Day Camp.

"I love having the opportunity to introduce kids to the wonders of nature," said Kirkland- Caplan.

As a young girl, Kirkland-Caplan spent her summers going to nature day camps. Her parents influenced a love of the outdoors through activities like camping and canoeing.

While an environmental science major at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Kirkland-Caplan learned of a forest service internship connecting inner city school kids with the outdoors.

At first she was reluctant.

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"I liked kids but I hated babysitting when I was growing up," she said.

Hesitantly she took the job.

"I started doing it. I was a little nervous at first, but I actually loved it," she said.

For two summers she traveled to various youth camps taking city youth from troubled homes and rough urban neighborhoods out to the woods.

"Taking them out of the city was a great way to connect them with nature," said Kirkland-Caplan.

Kids who had never left the city visited places like Lake Superior, sat on bluffs to watch the sunset or rode along during black bear studies. At first, young campers who admitted they had never heard a cricket chirp were frightened of common critters like ants, grasshoppers and squirrels. It wasn't long before their anxiety subsided and they began to appreciate and feel at home in the natural world.

"They were just stunned and amazed at the tiniest thing," she said.

For six months, she journeyed to Ecuador to study conservation abroad.

The Spanish she learned as a kid growing up in Milwaukee attending a Bilingual elementary school paid off. She spent one month as an intern at a farm and ecological school teaching rural youth to appreciate nature.

After receiving her Bachelor of Science in Conservation and Environmental Science with a minor in Biology, she wondered what to do next.

She waited tables and volunteered at the Urban Ecology Center.

"I wasn't sure what I wanted. I just never thought I'd go into education," she said.

Her California friends convinced her to move out West. In 2011, she moved to Nevada County and landed a position as a Naturalist Intern at Shady Creek Outdoor School on the San Juan Ridge. This school year, she served as Lead Naturalist and used her science background teaching creek ecology, wilderness survival and forest ecology.

"I enjoy working with kids. It isn't like babysitting at all," she said. She enjoys the work so much, that she now she is applying for her teaching credentials.

In a digital age, Kirkland-Caplan believes nature camps like the one at the Burton Homestead offer a healthy alternative to screens and a remedy to Nature Deficit Disorder.

She has witnessed first hand, children with ADD or who are restless in the classroom become calmer and more focused outdoors.

"I think it gives kids who might be kind of lost in a classroom, a chance to thrive," she said.

Kirkland-Caplan is enthusiastic about her role with Bear Yuba Land Trust and hopes to plant seeds that will be carried into adulthood, perhaps nurturing the next generation of conservationists. Who knows, maybe even the next Aldo Leopold.

"You're not truly going to gain appreciation or love of something unless you're fully immersed… Go play in the woods. It's primal. It's what we're made of," she said.

To learn more about the land trust's summer camps see page C2 or visit:

To send a child to camp who can't afford to go, donate to the scholarship fund by contacting: Operations Manager Jean Gilbert at or 272-5994 ext. 205

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