Campfire Notes

Leaving No Trace at GAC

Leaving No Trace at GAC

Here at GAC, we believe that camp leaves a lasting impact on everyone who experiences it. However, in our backpacking and nature programs, we’ve been working hard to have a smaller impact. Not on campers, but on the environment we camp in! This year was our second summer working with the Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics to become a Leave No Trace Accredited Youth Program. With the guidance of the LNT’s 7 principles, we’ve been making a conscious effort to decrease our impact on nature even as we send more campers into the beauty of the High Sierra!

One of our core values is that we want campers to “experience the awe of nature.” All of our campers have an opportunity to experience nature outside of our traditional camp property. Our youngest campers have an overnight of tent camping (we take care of moving their luggage) that we call Bears’ Adventure. Our middle campers spend one night underneath the stars on a backpacking trip into the Kaiser Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest as a part of our backpacking program. Our oldest campers are given the opportunity to sign up for a backpacking trip, and many do. We even offer a special program, the Outdoor Leadership Course,  for teens who want a more immersive experience in the backcountry. All of these programs adhere to The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
    1. Our trips are planned well in advance and led by certified instructors. They are well versed in how to lead trips with minimal impact on nature.
  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
    1. We use well-established trails and sleep on durable surfaces. We are happy to be able to utilize the established trails and camping sites in the national forest.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
    1. Our backpacking trips offer the opportunity for campers to “nature pee,” which is an experience fewer and fewer children have today. The trips also offer the opportunity to learn why it’s important that we do not use toilet paper in the wilderness, and that if TP is necessary, we’ll pack it back to camp for proper disposal.
  4. Leave What You Find
    1. It is tempting to bring home a giant pinecone as a souvenir, but our counselors remind campers to “leave only footprints, and take only photographs.” Our campers bring home plenty of photographs (and other memories).
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
    1. Campfires are an important part of our program, and we work hard to minimize their impact on the backcountry by using established fire sites and keeping the fires small.
  6. Respect Wildlife
    1. We love to see wildlife on a trip, but we know that the forest is their home. That’s why campers and staff never approach wildlife. Instead, they experience wildlife at a distance, in its natural habitat.
    2. We also respect wildlife by making sure that we aren’t tempting them with food. In camp, we don’t allow food (or even food trash) off of the Dining Porch.  On the trail, every bit of food and food trash stays in a “Bear Canister” to prevent us from becoming attractive to forest friends who would like to share our dinners!
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
      1. We’re thrilled when other people get to share our backyard! We’re friendly on the trail, but also make sure we respect their space and their desire to be in nature as well.

When campers are introduced to their program, the backpacking counselors review the LNT 7 principles as a part of the safety discussion before any trip departs. We even have a banner that hangs on our backpacking shed so that they can read along!

The backpacking counselors also lead two different types of programs in camp, called nature and OREO (Outdoor Recreation Educational Opportunity). The goal of OREO is to teach campers to appreciate nature while spending some time out of camp on a day hike and bonding with their cabin group. At the end of the hike, there’s even a reward that shares its name with the acronym OREO!

The goal of the nature program is to support GAC’s core value of experiencing the awe of nature and let campers play games to connect them to nature. We know that exposing campers to the beauty of nature will help them develop a personal connection and want to protect it for future generations.

Since 2017, we have been close partners with the Leave No Trace (LNT) Program and have educated our campers on the 7 LNT principles before every backpacking trip and OREO hike. We are dedicated to minimizing our impact on the Sierra Nevada and helping our campers understand WHY it is important, both for nature and for future generations.  We hope that if you head out for some adventures in nature you and your family can also minimize your impact!

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Introduce Yourself Using WESTI

Introduce Yourself Using WESTI

Introducing yourself (Can you approach people on your own and meet them?) and introducing others (Can you help people meet one another?) are very basic and useful social skills. It’s a friendship skill we teach campers and encourage them to practice all year!

We use the acronym WESTI to remind us of some simple steps to introducing ourselves.



Smile at the person you want to meet and make eye contact.



“Hi, I’m Sunshine. I’m so excited you’re here!”

Practicing introducing ourselves.


“Have you met Joe?”
“Sam, this is Joe. He goes to my school.”

While these steps may sound simple to adults, sometimes we forget to actually explain the process of introducing ourselves and others to our kids. Like most skills, with a bit of gentle coaching, our kids can improve tremendously in these areas!

This summer, we reviewed these steps with staff and campers.

When I ask campers how they think their time at camp has changed or influenced them, campers often say that they’ve learned better skills at meeting new people and making new friends.  Campers say that because of camp they are much more confident about meeting new people and making new friends. Some mention that they are more confident about starting at a new school or joining a new team or club because they know how to meet people and have learned to be more open and approach others with a smile and simple introduction.

Introducing themselves and introducing others is an important and useful social skill that we can easily coach our kids to master using these simple steps.

10 Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs

Ep. 2: 10 Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs

Making Friends: 3 Communication Skills Your Child Needs

Making Friends: Developing Emotional Intelligence

Making Friends: Managing Difficult Emotions

5 Steps to Help Kids Resolve Conflicts


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