March 31, 2011

Touch of Nature to host 'Eco U' this summer

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Children can enjoy nature up close and personal this summer in a way they likely haven’t before at Eco U, the experiential youth nature camp at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

There are actually four different fun, hands-on camp adventures available in June and July for children entering grades two-seven in the fall. Each weeklong session has a different theme and each centers on heightening ecological awareness and giving children a better understanding of the world around them through creative and exciting activities, according to Kate Hellgren, environmental education program coordinator and Eco U camp director.

Trained, professional staff directs the activities. Youngsters and parents always give the popular camp great reviews. Children can attend any number of the sessions, as each is totally different, with unique activities and learning experiences.

“This our fifth year for Eco U and each and every year it gets bigger and more exciting. We feel strongly about providing an exhilarating camp experience where children can satisfy their curiosities about nature in a safe and respectful manner. We’re really excited about the wide array of information-accurate activities that give campers the opportunity for experiential learning while interacting with one another and our staff,” Hellgren said.

The schedule for Eco U 2011 includes:

• Animal Adventures, June 13-17: Wherever you find them, mammals, reptiles, bugs and birds are amazing creatures!

• Survival 101, June 20-24: Discover how Native Americans meet all of their basic survival needs utilizing the land.

• Wonderful Water, June 27-July 1: Explore a whole different world lurking just below the surface in water.

• Planet Earth, July 5-8: Learn about this planet called Earth and how to protect it and make it a healthy place.

The cost is $185 per week for the first three sessions and $148 for the final session, Planet Earth, which is just four days long due to the Independence Day holiday. Children participating in all four camps will save $40.

The camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Parents may drop children off at the camp, located about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road. Or, to save time and gas, take advantage of supervised bus transportation from the SIU Arena parking lot to Touch of Nature at no additional cost. The bus leaves the lot at 8 a.m. and returns about 4:30 p.m. There is supervision for the children during those hours only so parents should adhere to those timelines.

Campers should bring sack lunches each day during the camp. Eco U T-shirts are also available for just $10.

There is a limit of 40 campers for each camp session so organizers encourage early registration. To sign up, or for more information, call 618/453-1121 or visit

Touch of Nature Environmental Center’s mission is to enhance learning and promote the professional development of students while providing high quality outdoor educational, research and experiential programs and services to the University and region. The center sits on a 3,100-acre plot alongside Little Grassy Lake.