Hiking and camping in national parks, learning, having fun, and making friends… great summertime activities, right? These and more were part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s first ever Teen Adventure week, an expansion of the ParKids Program. Since 2000, every June Carlsbad Caverns National Park has offered week-long day camps for children aged 7 to 12 years. Teen Adventure week was designed for 13 to 15 year-olds as a bridge between “kids’ games” and summer employment. “The hope is that children in the Carlsbad area will attend summer camp then look forward to pursuing paid or volunteer positions at these or other national parks, such as with Youth Conservation Corps, Student Conservation Association, or NPS” said Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s Education Specialist Helen Fields who coordinated all three weeks of the ParKids Program.
During Teen Adventure week, eleven teens studied and practiced Leave No Trace principles. On day one, they learned about planning and preparing for an outdoor adventure. Next, they hiked 15 miles on a three day/two night backpacking trip in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The last day of the adventure included applying the principles on a caving tour to Lower Cave in Carlsbad Cavern. By the end of the week, the teen participants were certified Leave No Trace trainers. “Since it was the first time having the summer camp for this age group, “ Helen Fields continued, “we felt some uncertainty as we planned. How would the kids handle hiking in the heat? Could we keep them engaged without a bunch of electronic gadgets? It turned out to be a blast for everyone, kids and adults alike! Teen Adventure Week was a big success!”
One measure of success could be 15-year-old participant Jacob Cook’s declaration, “I had an awesome time.” Another measure was that two of the boys volunteered during the following two weeks of summer camp for the younger children. The final measure is that the park will offer Teen Adventure week again next year.