TWIN FALLS • Jessica Helsley’s family spent a lot of time outdoors hiking, fishing and camping when she was young. Still, it wasn’t until she went to Natural Resources Camp for the first time that she discovered careers existed for people like herself who just couldn’t imagine spending their working lives at a desk.
“It was a dream come true,” Helsley said. “I learned there were jobs that allowed you to be outdoors. I felt like I hit the lottery.”
She returned to the Natural Resources Camp, held at the University of Idaho 4-H Camp north of Ketchum, the following year as a cabin leader. While attending college, she served as program director for a similar camp based in north Idaho. That camp has since closed.
This summer she returns to Natural Resources Camp as the water instructor. “It’s so important for kids to know what opportunities there are before they go to college,” she said.
Helsley worked on salmon recovery efforts in central Idaho before returning to the University of Idaho to complete a master’s program. Students who attend NRCS this summer can expect to learn about riparian corridors and water quality but with a stream ecology perspective.
“There are hundreds of things that have to be here in order for the fish to be here,” she explained. “I want to expand their thought processes. What are the fish eating and why. What can’t we see and then go find out how we can.”
NRC is intended for campers from age 12 to 14. That’s a ripe age for students to build self-awareness and develop life skills. “NRC is helping build future leaders for Idaho,” Helsley said, adding that her experiences at camp were dramatically life changing by showing her career options she had never considered before.
“I can work outdoors. This is where I want to be, and I can make a living here,” she said.
Pam Braden has also experienced the life changing power of NRC. The sixth-grade teacher at Hansen Elementary attended NRC along with three of her students last summer. Braden earned two continuing education credits as part of the week-long program, but was shocked to discover how little she — an Idaho native — knew about certain resources.
“I completely undervalued the importance of rangeland, and I didn’t understand nearly as much about soil as I do now,” Braden said. “I also knew some about the trees we have in Idaho, but I know much more about the diseases that affect them and the complicated issues of fires.”
After attending NRC last year, she finds it easier to bring resource conversations into different subjects much more easily. When her students studied the beginnings of early civilizations in social studies, they learned about the importance of water resources, fertile soil and wildlife. “We talked about irrigation, bartering and trade, and several other things that the students could understand more completely by comparing the past to their present,” she explained.
Not only is she recruiting students from this year’s class to attend NRC, but she encourages other teachers to attend as well. Amber Moore, a UI extension soils specialist who is also camp superintendent, supervises the teachers and grades their reports.
Moore tries to add new things to NRC each year. In addition to hands-on sessions on soils, water, forestry, rangeland and wildlife taught by experts, the 2013 camp will also feature a section on volcanology.
“NRC helps students gain a different perspective on their world and natural resources,” Moore said. “Something unique stands our for each student.”
The 2013 camp runs from June 24 to June 29 at the Central Idaho 4-H Camp north of Ketchum.