2019 marks three decades of Amery fifth-grade students being given the opportunity to attend Camp Wapo for two days. The experiences and memories made will be imprinted into the young minds for years to come.
Camp Wapo is situated on a 22-acre peninsula between Lake Wapogasset and Bear Trap Lake. Camp Wapo has been an asset to the community of Amery for over 60 years. Not only does this site house over 300 campers each week in the summer, it is full of activity all year-round. The facilities include two large retreat centers, a dining facility and several cabins to house campers and retreaters while they are guests of the camp. Several school districts visit with sixth students each year, while it is the fifth-grade students at the School District of Amery that are presented with the chance to participate in the environmental education experience.
Attending camp is part of the student’s fifth grade curriculum. It is one of the most exciting events during the time they spend in the Amery Intermediate School. Next year they will move on to sixth grade where the middle school years will offer a new set of challenges and adventures. While an overnight camping field trip initially might make some students and parents nervous, the educational stations and fun evening activities create excitement that over shadows all else. Students stay in cabins in small groups, they eat their meals together in the dining hall and participate in a variety of small and large group activities.
Amery fifth grade staff began the tradition in the spring of 1989. During the time spent at Wapo, students engage in survival skills, writing exercises, archery, campfire cooking and canoeing. They learn how to pitch a tent and master new games such as a favorite called “Gaga.” It is a fast-paced, high-energy sport played in an octagonal pit. Free time is provided where shrieks and giggles can be heard while old favorites like tag and basketball are being played.
During the two-day excursion, students also participate in activities at the Ox Lake camp. This area features 270 acres of forest, three village sites, the Balsam Branch River, Ox Lake and miles of horseback trails.
The Ox Lake time gave the pupils a chance to go horseback riding. For some students, it was a new experience that they had never been presented the chance to participate in before. It was a favorite for many of those that took on the trails. The shelter building station at Ox Lake was also a high point for countless students. During this time, fifth-graders got down into the mud and tried their hand at building dwellings. Wet dirt covered the hands and smiling faces of the newly nature knowledge students as they climbed the path out of the woods.
It is a group consensus between pupils and instructors alike that there are so many cool experiences; it is hard to pick just one favorite. Student Ayden Montpetit said, “I loved everything we did at Wapo and Ox Lake, except for the smell of the horse poop. Other than that things were awesome.” Brenda Croes said, “This is my third year to Wapo as a fifth grade teacher, and I subbed for Shayne Curtis one year. I have so many favorite parts, it is hard to choose. I love just seeing the kids be independent and bond together as a class. I also always enjoy taking kids canoeing who have never been canoeing before.”
Wednesday night campers were treated to a show from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. They were able to see a Red Tail Hawk, Bald Eagle, Falcon and Owl. They were full of questions for the presenter and gained knowledge about many feathered friends. The presentation was flowed by a game of BIFF with parents and a campfire by the lake.
Intermediate School Principal Oralee Schock said, “I love the opportunity to take students out into the real world for them to explore, learn and grow. All students thrive in the hands-on, active environment of the Camp Wapo experience. We would never be able to provide this activity without the many hours of dedicated service from our school staff as well as the parent volunteers.
“The students and staff of the Amery School district are so fortunate to have Camp Wapo literately in our backyard. The entire camp staff is exceptional!”