By the end of high school, teens need to have mastered more skills than just reading, writing and math to be successful, thriving adults.
Gold Arrow Camp’s Outdoor Leadership Course (OLC) helps campers develop important life skills that stretch them far beyond academics: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
The OLC is a two-week program for young people interested in developing important life skills. Trained leaders guide OLC participants on a challenging, six-day, 30-mile backpacking trip into the High Sierras. Throughout the session, campers develop backcountry navigational and survival skills, practice wilderness first aid skills, and participate in GAC activities.
The purpose of OLC is to challenge teens to learn and grow in self-awareness, develop maturity, discover the value of community and working with others to solve problems and accomplish shared objectives. While growing and learning, participants develop five skills vital for success: Leadership, Independence, Communication Skills, Resilience, and Responsibility.
“Being a part of OLC has influenced my life after camp because it taught me how to be a leader and being a part of a high school swim team, being a leader is a big part of staying together as a team.” – Sophia, OLC Participant
After arriving at camp, OLC participants receive leadership training before departing on the backpacking trip. They do exercises in team building, learn conflict resolution techniques, and practice positive communication. While in the wilderness, campers have the opportunity to learn and practice map and compass navigation, outdoor cooking, Leave No Trace principles and ethics, sustainable backcountry living, and wildlife biology.
All OLC participants serve as “Leader of the Day,” which means they use navigational skills to determine which path to take, when to stop for breaks, and what to do about any situations that arise while hiking. At the end of the day, the “Leader of the Day” receives feedback from trip leaders and peers.
Achieving independence is essential to making the transition to adulthood, and participating in challenging outdoor program with other teens is a perfect way to develop the self efficacy needed to feel confident away from home. The hard skills learned during the OLC — navigation, outdoor cooking, wilderness first aid, camping, and hiking — require independence, curiosity, and creative problem solving.
3. Communication Skills
“I really enjoyed getting to discover myself in the woods, thinking and hiking and communicating with my fellow campers.” – Blake, OLC Participant
Effective communication is arguably the most important of all life skills. Trained trip leaders use positive guidance to facilitate reflection, dialogue and group
discussion throughout the program. Leaders encourage campers to think about what happened that day, what their successes and challenges were, and how to grow from those experiences. At the end of the course, all OLC participants have improved communication skills with peers and counselors.
Research shows that wilderness courses are well-suited to teach outdoor skills, self-confidence in general and confidence during adversity. Participation in an outdoor leadership program have a positive impact on emotional intelligence, specifically on stress management and adaptability. All OLC participants set personal and group goals before leaving on the backpacking portion of the course and work to accomplish those goals throughout the session with the help, direction, and encouragement of trip leaders.
A multi-day backpacking trip through the rugged terrain of the High Sierra has days that tax participants both mentally and physically. In the Outdoor Leadership Course, teens learn to push through challenges through encouragement from their trip leaders, supportive group dynamics, and building their self leadership. While surrounded by their peers, they learn just how far they can push themselves. They learn, literally, that they can climb mountains. After their OLC accomplishments, finding a way to make it to sports practice or finishing up a college admissions essay seem easy.
OLC participants are responsible for managing their equipment, completing tasks carefully and on time, admitting their role in mistakes, and working to correct those mistakes. The OLC equips campers to take the initiative to make their own decisions, fulfill obligations, and grow from their experiences.
In addition to the skills OLC participants learn and the growth they experience from the program, there is something else that too many teens don’t have the time to find; genuine face to face FUN!
“What I enjoyed about the OLC was that everyday was different, some days we would do longer hikes, and others we would have lot of time to relax and the enjoy the people and scenery. One of my favorite days out in the backcountry was when when we hiked about 5 miles and then hung out in a river for the rest of the afternoon, and then made quesadillas for dinner. The food was always amazing, and there was always plenty to eat. My favorite lunch was probably Nutella and English muffins. We had a lot of Nutella.” – Charlotte, OLC Participant
All of our 4th grade campers recently received a special envelope in the mail from GAC. As part of the National Park Foundation’s Open OutDoors for Kids program, the White House and Federal Land Management agencies partnered together to launch the Every Kid in a Park initiative.
With shrinking school funding for field trips, this program seeks to remove the barriers for kids to access our nation’s public lands and waters. Every 4th grade student in the country is eligible to receive a pass that allows for free access to experience federal lands and waters during the 2017-2018 school year. As educators and advocates for the outdoors, Gold Arrow Camp obtained passes for all of our 4th grade campers and mailed them at the end of September.
We hope that all of our camp families will utilize public lands, and we think this free pass is a great way to start that conversation in our camp community! We would love to see pictures of our GAC campers and families spending time together outdoors. Send us a picture to feature on our website and social media!
Did you know that Gold Arrow Camp is located near three great National Parks? Any camp family planning to drop off or pick up campers from camp this summer can plan a detour through one of these stunning national treasures.
We hope you’ll make it a priority for your family to enjoy the outdoors together!
Learn more about Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park.
Episode 5 of the Pog-Cast.
On this episode of the Pog-Cast, Soy interviews Crater, who spent the summer of 2016 leading backpacking trips into the high country. They talk about the amazing nature of the High Sierra as well the impact that being in nature has on campers. As always, there’s a joke of the cast, WOWs and even a haiku from Croakie.
As always, you can send your WOWs to firstname.lastname@example.org, or hashtag #gacwow on Instagram or twitter. You can subscribe to the GAC Pog-Cast on iTunes here.
In our expanded Nature program this summer, we’re learning to identify the five most common trees we have in camp – Jeffrey Pine, White Fir, Red Fir, Lodgepole Pine, and Sierra Juniper.
Camp Director Alison “Bean” Moeschberger worked with Welker’s Tree Nursery to get some saplings of those varieties and also some Giant Sequoias (state tree of CA).
The tree activity involves learning to identifying trees by looking at bark, pine needles, and cones,finding pine cones and seeds, and measuring the circumference of the Jeffrey Pines in order to estimate their age.
We have one tree in camp that is estimated to be 440 years old!
In addition to learning to identify trees, we’ve also partnered with the Center for Outdoor Ethics to pilot a Leave No Trace curriculum for camps. At our OREO (hiking), Nature, and Backpacking programs this summer, campers are learning the philosophy of Leave No Trace and learning how to implement it as good stewards of our environment!
1. New Programs!
This summer, GAC added FOUR new programs: Log Rolling, Hammock Hangout, GACting, and Ice Cream Making.
2. Big Campfire – Bigger and Better Than Ever!
Big Campfire featured new seating, a sound booth, and a staging area behind the stage. Campers now have the opportunity to prepare for skits backstage!
3. Appreciation Campfire Highlight Videos
At the end of each Appreciation Campfire, before counselors lit candles and we all sang “The Circle Game,” we watched a video of session highlights produced by Curly, our videographer. There were even guest vocals by counselors.
4. Campers Conquered Fears
At the end of the summer, this banner was filled with stories and signatures of campers who conquered their fear of sailing!
5. Koo Koo Kanga Roo
Many times during the summer, campers and staff would drop everything to pick up our feet and stomp them to a Koo Koo Kanga Roo hit.
6. ChiLala Got Married (Again!)
Veteran GAC counselors, Chilli and Lala (ChiLala), got married in Maryland in May, 2014. They returned to their GAC home for a week this summer. While at camp, they finally had a proper GAC wedding, including a paper tie made in Arts and Crafts and a bubble arch from campers as they entered their reception, a Wedding Banquet on the Dining Porch, with all Session #3 campers and counselors invited!
7. Outdoor Leadership Course
In its sophomore year, the OLC took older campers on a challenging seven day, 30+ mile backpacking trip that included a High Sierra crossing of the John Muir Wilderness.
8. We Danced…. A Lot!
The 2014 Dance Themes were a hit this summer!
- June Water Sports Specialty Camp: Sports
- Session 1: Animal
- Session 2: Neon
- Session 3: Superhero
- Session 4: Historical Figure
- August Shaver Water Sports and Mini Camp: Western
9. Shaver Island
Shaver Island, GAC’s outpost island on Shaver Lake, continued to be a highlight for many campers. Campers visit the island for 1-2 nights during a two-week session, sleeping on the beach under the stars each night, and focusing on waterskiing, wakeboarding, and kneeboarding, riding on competition-style ski boats. Oh, and s’mores, camp songs and games around a campfire circle were included each night!
10. We HAD FUN, MADE FRIENDS, AND GREW!
Is there any other way to spend a summer?
Thanks to all our amazing campers and counselors who joined us in 2014!
See you next summer!
Watching the campers construct fishing poles out of sticks and lanyard string, I had a revelation. Kids rarely get a chance to play like this any more. And, boy, are they good at it when they are given the opportunity!
For the first time in many years, I went on a GAC backpacking trip last summer. Led by experienced and fun backpacking instructors, Cabin 0 and I enjoyed a fun-filled afternoon and overnight at Indian Falls before returning to camp the following morning.
During the hike, we sang songs, did riddles, and talked as we walked. We took a break to play “Camouflage” at Indian Pools. One camper stood in a designated spot while the rest of us hid in the surrounding area. We had to be able to see the “Spotter,” who carefully looked around at the surrounding rocks, trees, and bushes to try to spot us. We drank our water and ate our special camp trail mix – a homemade concoction of granola and LOTS of chocolate. Since it was warm, our chocolate melted, making a gooey, cookie-like substance that tasted much better out on a trail than it ever would at home.
When we reached our destination, we weren’t overly tired (it’s about a two and a half mile trip), but we were hot and ready to go in the water. In the pool below Indian Falls, the kids swam, played in the waterfall, and explored. Three hours passed while the girls entertained themselves playing in and around the water. When the group counselor brought down lanyard string, several of the girls made fishing poles. I was struck by how naturally creative kids are when left to their own devices. And I was so thankful that our campers have the opportunity to just play, without adults providing all of the structure, all of the time.
I was also thankful that our children get to spend a night in an even more remote and natural setting than camp. Several of the girls were experienced GAC campers who were well versed in “nature peeing,” which is what is required when you’re out in the wilderness without toilets of any kind. One first-year camper proudly declared at campfire that she had done her first “nature pee.” I thought about how many kids (and people) don’t want to spend a night in the wilderness, because they can’t bear the thought of being without the comforts of home. These girls absolutely loved being there and felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment at carrying their belongings and learning to live outdoors. I know they are developing a love of the outdoors and am so glad they had the opportunity to backpack at Gold Arrow Camp.
Our dinner was grilled cheese and pesto sandwiches (pesto optional) and tasted delicious. Everything tastes better cooked over a campfire! We ate through two loaves of bread before we moved on to s’mores and a cookie concoction that was slightly charred on the outside but gooey and delicious on the inside.
The girls shared their highs and lows of the day around the campfire before we brushed our teeth using our water bottles and climbed into our sleeping bags to enjoy the night sky. I woke up several times and never quite found a comfortable position on the hard dirt, but the stars provided a great backdrop to a restless night of sleep. The campers, however, all declared in the morning how well they slept. Ah, the miracle of childhood!
Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder is a great book about the importance of getting our kids out in nature.
Let’s get our kids unplugged and show them how amazing, beautiful, and fun it is to be outside!
Gold Arrow Camp
By Madelyn, a 2014 Camper
I love Gold Arrow Camp. I knew the minute I got on the bus for the very first time that I was going to learn a lot about myself, have a ton of fun and make lots of new friends. That first summer, I went with one of my best friends and we stayed for one week. It went by so fast and neither of us was ready for camp to end. We spent our days paddle boarding, horse back riding, kayaking, rock climbing and swimming. We spent our evenings around the campfire telling stories, making up songs and skits and eating s’mores… yumm. The counselors were amazing and all had nicknames that made me laugh. They were always there for us and kept us entertained and excited about camp life.
The second summer I stayed for two weeks. It was awesome! I had even more fun (with theme days, a later bedtime and a special BINGO night) and got to go on more outdoor adventures. My favorite was a 2-day camp-out on Shaver Island. There, we slept under the stars and spent the days on the lake riding wake boards, water skis and knee boards. We also did an overnight backpacking adventure where we cooked our meals over the campfire, explored a waterfall and swam in the lake. I have so many great memories from that trip!
This summer will be my third summer and I can’t wait to see Sunshine, Monkey, Kona and Rascal and all my fellow campers. It makes me so happy to think about camp. I love GAC and can’t wait to get my three year banner!!
Originally published in Fast Forward magazine, March 2014 issue