Friends of Wildlife Camp is a carefully planned outdoor experience designed
to inspire and develop the love of nature and environmental stewardship.
For almost 30 years, the National Wildlife Federation, followed by several related organizations including the Wilderness Education Institute, operated Wildlife Camp and Teen Adventure, summer residential environmental education camps for kids and teens. In August 2012, Wildlife Camp and Teen Adventure alumni and their friends and family gathered at the original home of Wildlife Camp, 1,200 acres of forests and hills in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, for a reunion. That’s when the idea for Friends of Wildlife Camp was born. Seeking to regather camp alumni and their family and friends and revive the camp spirit, Friends of Wildlife Camp is for anyone who has ever been a camper, an LT or TA, a camp counselor, or in any way affiliated with or touched by that magical thing we all call CAMP SPIRIT! From the ashes of the previous Wildlife Camp, like the mythical phoenix being reborn, Friends of Wildlife Camp will create a new, engaging outdoor educational experience for adults and children alike.
History of the Wildlife Camp Experience
Wildlife Camp was a summer residential environmental education camp where kids and teens participated in Quests, Mini-Quests, Hobby Swaps, and Evening Programs and were taught camping techniques on one- or two-night backpacking trips. Wildlife Camp sessions, typically a total of 12-days long, were geared towards 9-13 year olds and offered studies in ornithology, soil, aquatic life, geology, forestry, herpetology, animal behavior, and entomology. College students, typically majoring in environmental education or similar studies, from all over the U.S. were recruited as camp staff. Starting in 1974, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) operated Eastern Wildlife Camp in a resident camp owned by and on the property of the Kanuga Conference Center, located within the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. In 1997, the last session of NWF Eastern Wildlife Camp at its founding North Carolina location said goodbye to its last session of campers. From 1998-2001, Eastern Wildlife Camp was operated by the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont.
From 1986 to 1995, the NWF held a second Wildlife Camp out west, the Western Wildlife Camp, at various sites: the Keystone Science School in Dillon, CO (1986-1989), the Olympic Park Institute in Port Angeles, WA (1990), the Cal-Wood Environmental Education Center near Boulder, CO (1991), and the Covenant Heights Conference Center near Estes Park, CO (1992-1995, operated by Covenant Heights on its own as a licensee in 1996). The Wilderness Education Institute (WEI) was founded in late 1996, which continued Western Wildlife Camp at Covenant Heights starting in the summer of 1997, with the final session of Wildlife Camp – of all locations – in summer 2004.
The NWF also created a Leadership Training (LT) Program for 14-17 year olds, which was designed to introduce teens to the basic principles of outdoor activity leadership and field teaching. The LT program was run concurrently with the Eastern Wildlife Camp sessions and was eventually offered at the Western Wildlife Camp by WEI.
The camps also featured the Teen Adventure (TA) Program for teens, where the majority of the session was spent backpacking, which was incorporated into NWF’s Wildlife Camp program in 1985 and was eventually offered at both the Eastern Wildlife Camp site in North Carolina and at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO as the Western Teen Adventure site. This nontraditional program was designed to bring together environmental education and outdoor education/adventure experiences and develop positive environmental attitudes and behaviors. WEI operated Teen Adventure at Covenant Heights during the 1997-2004 summers, leading additional trips in Olympic National Park, WA in 1997 and 1998 with base camp at the Olympic Park Institute. The Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont also operated the Teen Adventure program from 1998 to 2001.