Green Mountain Conservation Camp

One summer my dad announced that I was going to camp. I was less than thrilled. Sleep away summer camp wasn’t really a peak of my interest. Dad quickly explained that I wasn’t going to just any camp, I was going to Green Mountain Conservation Camp (GMCC). Once he told me I was going for a week to get my hunter’s ed certification and that it was with all girls my age, I eagerly changed my tune. In MA I had to be 12 to take the hunter education course, but in VT you can send a child who can read and pass the course, so off I went! I went back the following summer for my bow hunter’s certification. Two of the BEST weeks I can recall as a kid, so I wanted to share more about the camp. I want to share their mission, what they do, and just how amazing this program is.  When I reached out via email I received a very quick and eager response from Hannah Phelps.

Hannah Phelps, the GMCC Camp Coordinator, started as a basic-week camper in 2009. She returned for the advanced week the following year. She then spent 4 years in the Junior Counselor role, volunteering during the summers while she was in high school. After that she spent 4 years on staff until settling into her current role as the Camp Coordinator. “Now I get to oversee both camp programs, which is a dream come true for me.”

Pictured: Hannah Phelps, GMCC Camp Coordinator

GMCC’s Mission: Educating youth about Vermont’s wild habitats to inspire meaningful relationships with the environment and foster genuine connections with their peers. Hannah also pointed out that they incorporate the VT Fish & Wildlife Department’s mission: The conservation of all species of fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont. 

GMCC has 2 locations. Edward F. Kehoe Camp is in Castleton on Lake Bomoseen and Buck Lake Camp is in Woodbury. I was lucky enough to get a week at each location, and they’re both phenomenal. Camp Kehoe can hold about 57 campers per week, and Buck Lake about 60 campers a week. “This leads to nearly 1,000 youth coming to camp over the course of our 9-week summer.” 

When asked about the looming COVID19 pandemic, it was clear that GMCC will still have campers for 2021: “Our most drastic decision this year was to cut our camper capacity in half for each session. While this was a very hard decision to make, it will allow us to continue the majority of our camp activities with only minor changes, rather than allowing full capacity and losing some of the heart of camp to COVID regulations. Other than that, our plan is simply to follow the most up-to-date Vermont State guidelines. This means that our policies will be constantly evolving with the state policies, but we are confident that by doing so we can run a safe and successful camp this summer. In general, campers and staff will be asked to get tested before arrival at camp, masks will be worn, and we will continue with our current model of outdoor classes whenever possible. A more detailed list of our COVID-19 protocols for campers can be found on our website.”

Another question I asked was, what do you feel is the most important thing or most important message that GMCC offers young girls who are interested in hunting and fishing, or even just wildlife conservation in general?  Her answer really resonated with me, especially as a girl who always felt like a bit of an oddball growing up. “As a young girl who attended GMCC, the most important message I was offered was it’s okay to be yourself, exactly as you are. I think a lot of young girls in middle and early high school spend so much time trying to fit in with everyone else that it’s easy to lose sight of who they want to be. Specifically with hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation, camp gives young girls permission to get dirty, be tough, and really engage in the outdoors however they want without worrying about social consequences. That was a life changing experience for me as a camper, and I think it still rings true with the young girls going through our program today.” 

In addition to the sleep away youth camps, GMCC is involved in a cohort of other programs. Their education team offers several programs for both kids and adults to learn about the outdoors. The two camps are often used as locations for these programs, including hunter education classes and seminars. 

NRMA: Natural Resource Management Academy is run by the UVM extension of 4-H. It’s a 3 day event at Buck Lake for highschool students who want to learn more about joining the field of natural resource conservation management. 

Hunter Education: The hunter education team works with volunteers across the state to provide excellent learning opportunities specifically for people interested in hunting in the state of Vermont. 

Let’s Go Fishing: LGF also uses a network of volunteers focusing on getting Vermonteres out on the water to learn how to fish. This program emphasizes that fishing is more than catching fish by teaching participants about water ecology, fishing populations, habitat needs, and proper ethics. 

Wildlife Management & Outdoor Education Techniques for Educators:  Held at Buck Lake each July, this one-week course targets educators interested in integrating environmental topics into their curriculum. This course takes a hands-on, experiential approach to teaching pre- kindergarten through twelfth grade and non-formal educators about fish and wildlife management and outdoor education techniques. Three graduate credits available. More information here.”

I also asked Hannah to extend some of my questions to her staff. As I read through their answers, I could feel their passion. Not only do they value the work they’re doing, they value their campers’ education. They only have a short time with each group of campers, and they make the most of it. Most of them were campers themselves at one point, just like Hannah. Among their answers topics that came up included wildlife conservation education, breaking gender biases, ecology, biology, and advice for hesitant parents.

Kehoe Camp Staff

What do you feel is the most important thing or most important message that GMCC offers young girls who are interested in hunting and fishing, or even just wildlife conservation in general?

“I feel the most important thing GMCC offers young girls is an opportunity to be outside and enjoy activities that tend to be primarily male-dominated, because we let them try new things and perhaps discover a passion they would’ve never known about otherwise. I also feel that GMCC provides young girls with truly wonderful mentors who encourage them to be themselves at an age where that is especially important. In addition, those who become Junior Counselors are able to gain incredible leadership experience and build lifelong friendships with awesome human beings.” Sam Morse

“I love that youngsters are taught the proper handling of firearms.  But even more importantly, Camp focuses on many environmental issues.  There’s the biology, and the ecology. The girls are encouraged to form opinions and defend them with facts. (That’s becoming a lost art.) The life lessons they learn at GMCC are worth the price of admission!” Margaret Phelps (Hannah’s mom!) 

“I feel that GMCC offers young girls the important message that women do belong in the outdoors, and that women are necessary members to the field of conservation. Wildlife conservation has always been a male-dominated field, but I’ve met so many accomplished and respected female conservationists through GMCC. It’s essential to show young girls that they can belong and thrive in any community they choose, and GMCC has so many role models that demonstrate that success.” Joe Franckiewicz

“I highly recommend camp to all girls who want to learn more about the outdoors. From hunting to hiking, GMCC has a broad list of activities that are aimed to interest all campers. If your daughter is interested in getting her hunter and/or bow license, GMCC does a great job to set campers up to pass the test. If your daughter wants to learn more about wildlife and the environment, she has the chance to meet local foresters, game wardens, and biologists. If she’s interested in spending time outdoors, there are classes in canoeing, backpacking and camping. GMCC will be a great experience for all young girls! “ Megan Ezzo

“I’ve been a part of this program for almost seven years and I’ve always felt like camp was a very empowering place for young girls. Many of our campers look up to our female staff members who do a great job acting as role models and sharing their passion for hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation with the girls. Also, one of my favorite things at camp is when female game wardens, foresters, and wildlife biologists come to camp to talk about their careers and what they do for their jobs every day. It’s inspiring for young girls to meet these women, listen to their stories, and learn that when they grow up, they can do anything they put their mind to. It’s a powerful thing to watch our campers confidence in themselves transform throughout the week.” Emma Ezzo

What advice might you give to parents who might be considering getting their kids involved in the program?

“Some kids can be really hesitant about coming to camp, especially girls. My advice would be to send them anyway, even if it pushes them (and you!) out of their comfort zone. So many times, I have seen campers be anywhere from shy and quiet to very vocally upset and homesick on a Sunday, only to be sad when it’s time to leave on Friday.“ Hannah Phelps

Advice I would give to parents is to sign up as soon as you’re able to! Slots often fill fast and you don’t want to miss the chance to give your kids the opportunity of a lifetime.” Sam Morse

“DO IT!!  Send them.  If finances are a concern check with local civic organizations; many of them sponsor campers, paying a portion of the fee. My girls had the time of their lives and others will too!” Margaret Phelps

“I say go for it! I wish I had the opportunity to go to GMCC’s summer programs when I was young! GMCC teaches young people so many valuable skills and presents young people with opportunities that people their age rarely get to participate in. I’ve worked at summer camps since I was 14, and I’ve never seen a summer program quite like GMCC.” Joe Franckiewicz 

“I highly recommend camp to all girls who want to learn more about the outdoors. From hunting to hiking, GMCC has a broad list of activities that are aimed to interest all campers. If your daughter is interested in getting her hunter and/or bow license, GMCC does a great job to set campers up to pass the test. If your daughter wants to learn more about wildlife and the environment, she has the chance to meet local foresters, game wardens, and biologists. If she’s interested in spending time outdoors, there are classes in canoeing, backpacking and camping. GMCC will be a great experience for all young girls!“ Megan Ezzo

“GMCC is a great place to send your kid if they want to earn their hunter education license. However, there is so much more to camp than that. We do all kinds of other things like hiking, canoeing, and orienteering; and we teach about wildlife conservation, biology, forestry, and so much more. They will meet new friends, step out of their comfort zones, try new things, and when the week is over, they will come home more confident in themselves and their abilities. It’s always hard sending your kid away for a week, especially if it’s their first time away from home. But it’s 100% worth it, and in my opinion, it is one of the best decisions you could make for them. “ Emma Ezzo

What is your favorite thing about GMCC? 

“My favorite thing about GMCC is the people. GMCC is such a special place in that it attracts the most amazing people to work there who genuinely care about the environment and about working with kids.” Sam Morse 

“I love seeing people experience new things and learn about the environment! Whether it’s discovering a love for canoeing or seeing a clear, starry night for the first time, GMCC fosters a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature. It’s so important to show young people why the environment matters. GMCC brings in people from all walks of life and unites them as lifelong conservationists” Joe Franckiewicz 

“One thing that is unique to GMCC is that you are completely unplugged from technology and social media. Not having a cell phone makes campers truly appreciate their week at camp with no distractions. Especially over the past year, kids have had to learn with online school, but GMCC will give campers hands-on learning experiences. I truthfully believe that camp is more memorable and enjoyable without the distraction of technology.” Megan Ezzo

“I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it a hundred more, my favorite thing about camp is definitely the people. Everyone from campers, junior counselors, NRI’s, and visitors have had such a huge impact on my life. There are girls that I met at my basic week as a camper that I still talk to and hang out with today. The people are the reason that GMCC feels so much like home, and because of them, I’ve always felt like camp was a place that I could be my true, authentic self.” Emma Ezzo

“This is such a hard question because I love everything about GMCC dearly. But if I had to pick one favorite thing it would be the people. Last summer we were unable to open due to COVID-19, and while I was incredibly grateful for being kept on staff as the Buck Lake facilities manager, it meant that every day I was out at Buck Lake alone. It made me come face to face with the fact that while Buck Lake is beautiful and arguably my favorite place in the world, camp is just a group of empty buildings without the people there making it special. The staff and campers fill each location with energy and passion that just cannot be found otherwise. They make space for each other to live and grow just the way they are, allowing camp to be as magical for campers today as it was for me twelve years ago, and for my father forty years before that. We have a celebration at the end of advanced weeks to honor the time and passion poured into our program by campers, JCs, and staff alike. This serves not as a goodbye to all those unable to return the next summer for one reason or another, but as a welcome to all to the GMCC family. Because no matter how long ago you attended GMCC, no matter if you were there for one week or a decade, you will always be able to connect with friends, neighbors, and strangers over the time you all spent at camp.” Hannah Phelps

After so thoughtfully answering my excessive list of questions, Hannah added a note at the end of her answers which I feel needs to be highlighted.

“I focused a lot on the hunting and fishing side of GMCC as that is the focus of your blog, but I do think it is important to note that GMCC is so much more than just a hunting and fishing camp. We devote about a quarter of our curriculum to hunter education to help as many campers pass their combo Hunter/Bowhunter certification test at the end of the week, but the other three quarters of our curriculum is just teaching kids about the great outdoors. We teach about forestry, wetlands, non-game wildlife, plant ecology, and so much more. We take campers canoeing, hiking, and camping overnight in the woods. We love that our camp gives kids the opportunity to go fishing and hunting, but there is a reason we do not mention those skills in our mission; our main goal is just to engage the campers in the outdoors. Hopefully, they will walk away with a new passion, or something they learned and want to share with others. But if all else fails they will walk away with time well spent outside. And bellies full of delicious food, that’s always their favorite part”

I know this was a lengthy read, but I want to shout to the world that GMCC is simply fantastic! They are truly amazing at what they do. Education is key. They are teaching the youth that we are so desperately trying to get involved in our community, not only about the sports we love but everything outdoors. They even offer scholarship opportunities for kids whose families might not be able to afford the tuition. 

If you are interested in knowing more about camp for a kid in your life, have any questions, or are interested in getting involved with any of the programs you can click here and fill out the contact form on their page. You can also like the Green Mountain Conservation Camp page on Facebook.

Help me spread the word about this awesome program! 

GMCC Camp Staff

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