South Summit students connect with nature the Norwegian way
While most sixth graders at South Summit Middle School sat warmly inside their classrooms on Wednesday, 12-year-old Kade Crittenden was crouched inside a beaver den. He and five other classmates, on a field trip with the Norwegian Outdoor Exploration Center (NOEC) to the Rockcliff Nature Preserve in Kamas, didn’t seem to mind the blowing winds and occasional snow bursts. They were too preoccupied with muskrats, swallows, rocks and beavers.
For NOEC director Tom Cammermeyer and intern Robb Shirley, the students’ enthusiasm for nature made the trip a success. The nonprofit youth organization conducts hikes and field trips with 10 middle and elementary schools in Summit County with the goal of connecting kids with nature.
A Norwegian native, Cammermeyer founded the center to give kids an opportunity to experience the outdoors through the concept, "friluftsliv," which means ‘free air life.’ The philosophy emphasizes the importance of living simply and respecting nature.
"Friluftsliv is about embracing a deep appreciation for nature," Cammermeyer explained.
He hasn’t always felt as reverent about his environment, however. At one time, the nature enthusiast found little that excited him.
"I hated America, I hated Norway and I hated nature," he said candidly.
A blood clot in his brain changed his outlook. "It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
He formed the NOEC to save children from the same feelings of alienation to their roots and to nature that he felt.
"I didn’t want them to need a blood clot to wake up," he said. "No matter how idealistic it was, this was what I wanted to do." He began taking kids on hikes to the Uintas and on other nature trips in 1980. His program has grown to include summer programs, team-building groups and adult walks. But his roots have remained with youth.
"Kids are hungry. There’s no greater joy than to see them enjoying nature," he said.
The South Summit sixth graders took their lessons to heart.
"It’s important that we interact with nature," said 11-year-old Grace Shulz. "Trees give us air, and we get a lot of other things from our environment, too."
The NOEC takes six to 12 kids at a time on hikes to the Uintas and other outdoor sites. Often an intern joins the hikes. On Wednesday, MBA student Robb Shirley, who has a background in youth recreation, helped the kids identify bird species, track animals, and learn to use a compass. He and Cammermeyer also incorporated lessons in cooperation, flexibility and consideration.
"Being out in nature gives kids so much more than just a chance to be outside," Cammermeyer said. "It makes them feel good about themselves."
While the philosophy has remained consistent since the beginning, the center has recently modernized to allow further growth. Shirley has applied his business training to ensure it will continue after Cammermeyer retires.
"My first thought when I found out about this was, ‘Great program! It needs a lot of spring cleaning." He developed a mentor training manual and a Web site, http://www.outdoorcenter.com .
The NOEC operates through funds from Summit County, the United Way of Salt Lake and private donations. The group will hold its annual fundraiser Nov. 16 at the Silver Lake Lodge in Deer Valley, featuring a black-tie gala with dinner, dancing and a live and silent auction, dinner and dancing. Individual tickets are $125, and a table of 10 is $1,500. For more information call Cammermeyer at 649-5322.
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Welcome to The Park Record’s 2020 edition of Mile Post, our annual report on key indicators in our changing community.