Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner December 3, 2020
It has been fully eight years since I last visited Camp Kawartha, our district’s own 100-year-old, non-profit camp for kids and adults on Clear Lake.
Back then, in 2012, with Jamaican Self Help, I brought 20 teenage volunteers who were on their way to Kingston, Jamaica to the camp for a weekend briefing on cross-cultural learning. Then later, we came back to integrate the formidable experience in the global south into their lives.
But I found out recently I am very much behind on the remarkable achievements at two sites: the camp itself and its second site, the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre, built in 2009 on Pioneer Road on 200 acres of wetland at Trent University. So I made busy to get up to speed.
Experience and education about the natural world is creatively offered in the two locations. Perhaps just in the nick of time. We all have a sense of peril at the state of the earth, damaged by overconsumption and bad practices.
But most of us are left without entry points, or consistent ways of changing our habits and our politics.
Enter these two places and the people who have created them.
Jacob Rodenburg is the visionary director of Camp Kawartha. He grew up in Ottawa, roaming the outdoors, “a feral child,” he says with a grin. But he followed that childhood with degrees at Queen’s including a Masters in Education, and leadership in the Katimavik program. A national leader in environmental education, Rodenburg says that advocacy begins with caring, moves to commitment and culminates in action.
The overall goal is to inspire a new generation of environmental leaders in Canada.
First founded by the Rotary Club in 1921, as a summer camp for Peterborough kids to get into nature, Camp Kawartha now hosts some 1000 children and teens each summer.
But it has become year-round, at both the original and the second site at Trent. In a normal school year, the camp offers more than 80 outdoor programs linked to the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum, from kindergarten to Grade 12, and eco-certification to student teachers. Some 10,000 people come to the places each year.
In this COVID-19 year, it has nimbly pivoted to offer a Forest School, which is a European model: a school day spent outdoors.
Partnerships are all important in the development of the vision here. They include Trent and Fleming, the Rotary Club, the Gainey Foundation, the school boards, Green Up and others. There are “green” entrepreneurs such as Chris Magwood and Jen Feighen of Endeavour Centre, and Deidre McGahern of Straworks, experts in doing and teaching straw-bale building.
Camp Kawartha’s fourth straw-bale building, a health centre, is underway, to be ready in June 2021. It is “net zero,” a 1400 square-foot building with straw bales as insulation. These are acquired from a farmer near Port Hope at $6 a bale. Net zero” means zero carbon, zero water and zero toxins.
Deirdre McGahern, a Mount Allison university graduate in fine arts and a construction technologist, has been in business since 2004 in Peterborough. “We have a triple bottom line,” she says: “the dollars, the carbon footprint and how well it fosters connection.”
I don’t need convincing that mental health is connected to regular and sustained contact with nature. I’m even winter biking, wobbly but willing.
Another principle of the camp is “regeneration,” doing less harm for sure, but also creating places that are healthy for both people and the planet.
Camp Kawartha is fundraising for financial help with this building, led by volunteer David Goyette. The website is www.campkawartha.ca/health-centre. It would be Investing in a better future.
A teacher said recently: “We have been growing a society of learned helplessness about the outdoors. We need Camp Kawarthas all the more.”