By LOIS KINDLE
Before the kids head back to school Aug. 12, why not celebrate the last gasp of their summer vacations at a fun, nature-filled event at Camp Bayou?
At Back to School — Back to Nature, the Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center, children of all ages can spend some time in Camp Bayou’s natural setting, learn about nature and collect some school supplies by participating in fun, nature-related activities. Admission and parking are free.
This 12th annual event will take place take place from 9 a.m. to noon at the learning center, 4140 24th SE, Ruskin.
“Spending time in nature is a big part of being a kid,” said Dolly Cummings, Camp Bayou Learning Center director. “Back to School Back to Nature gives them the opportunity to be outdoors, learn about the environment and earn some school supplies at the same time.”
Cummings always points out that children can’t appreciate what they don’t experience. And part of the learning center’s mission is to help them respect the natural environment and understand its importance.
Volunteers from the following organizations and more will be on hand to provide lots of fun, learning experiences and information:
• Raptor Center of Tampa Bay
• Florida Aquarium
• Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center
• Paleo Preserve
• Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful
• Gulf Coast Research and Education Center
• Hillsborough County Conservation & Environmental Lands Management
• Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission
• League of Environmental Educators in Florida
• Hillsborough County Public Libraries
• Girl Scouts of West Central Florida
As in years past, families are invited to stop by their stations, where kids can play interactive games or hear fun facts about the environment. If they participate, they’ll be given a free school supply, which could include items like a spiral notebook, ruler, pen, pencil, box of crayons, folder, index cards or a glue stick.
Thanks to a Community Enrichment Grant from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, there will be plenty of supplies to give away. Additional items of school supplies or cash to purchase them are appreciated. They can be dropped them off at Camp Bayou, 4140 24th St. SE, Ruskin on Thursday, Friday or Saturday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. or a pickup can be arranged by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advance registration for the event at www.campbayou.org is requested but not required. Doing so simply helps organizers know how many school supplies they’ll need.
Every child who registers gets a free ticket for a chance to win a larger item like a backpack, lunch bag or water bottle during a raffle every 30 minutes. Winners can choose the prizes they want if their tickets are called.
The event will also have a teacher-exchange table for educators to donate their unused resources and exchange them for those they now need. Teachers who identify themselves will receive a special goodie bag.
Camp Bayou’s three walking trails, Paleo Preserve fossil pit and fossil museum, Native American campsite and butterfly habitat will be open.
Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center is a public-private partnership between Bayou Outdoor Learning and Discovery Inc. and Hillsborough County Conservations and Environmental Lands Management, which owns its 160 acres.
The all-volunteer, nonprofit learning center is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday for trail walking and activities like picnicking, canoeing or photographing birds and wildlife. Leashed dogs are permitted.