Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
VENTURA FWO: Camarillo, Calif., Day Campers Use GPS Units to Connect with Nature
California-Nevada Offices , August 12, 2009
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Mission Captains Kirk Waln (USFWS-VFWO) and Josh Bader (UCSB)served as two of the fearless leaders for the campers! (photo: Kate Eschelbach, VFWO)
Mission Captains Kirk Waln (USFWS-VFWO) and Josh Bader (UCSB)served as two of the fearless leaders for the campers! (photo: Kate Eschelbach, VFWO) - Photo Credit: n/a
Two Alpha Team members became quick professionals in using their GPS unit to navigate! (photo: Kate Eschelbach, VFWO)
Two Alpha Team members became quick professionals in using their GPS unit to navigate! (photo: Kate Eschelbach, VFWO) - Photo Credit: n/a
Team Beta pauses to show off their prowess in using the
Team Beta pauses to show off their prowess in using the "Let's Go Outside" backpacks! (photo: Kate Eschelbach, VFWO) - Photo Credit: n/a
Team Zulu connecting with nature! (photo: Brett Lane, YMCA)
Team Zulu connecting with nature! (photo: Brett Lane, YMCA) - Photo Credit: n/a

“Attention: All future space explorers seeking fun and adventure must attend this camp!  We will be blasting off to far away galaxies where new experiences are always around the corner.  Campers will train in the futuristic sport of laser-tag, learn basic astronomy, and hike free trails to explore new worlds.” - - Camp description, Camarillo YMCA website.


by Kate Eschelbach, Ventura FWO

On August 12, 2009, 20 energetic day campers participating in the week long YMCA Space Ranger Camp experienced a visit from three scientists from worlds...well, not that far, far away.  Kirk Waln and Kate Eschelbach of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, and Josh Bader of the University of California, Santa Barbara, beamed up and over to Los Posas Elementary School in Camarillo, Calif., to lead the group in a fun, educational activity, that helped them explore the outdoors and connect to nature, while using high-tech tools.


The activity was a GPS scavenger hunt designed for the trails next to the school and the campers, ages 7-11 years old, were eager to participate. The campers mission: to split into teams of 5 campers each, read the instructions, use their GPS unit to find the 4 locations as described by only their geographic coordinates, and answer the questions on their instruction sheets.  The questions were to be answered by using only the tools in their “Let's Go Outside” backpack at each location to prove they in fact found just the right spot in the vast universe of the natural world. The team that found all four locations and correctly answered all questions first would be victorious.


The campers were already divided into groups for the Camp – Teams Alpha, Bravo, X-Ray and Zulu – and they wasted no time learning to successfully navigate to the correct coordinates using their GPS units.  Some teams were faster than others at understanding and using GPS. Some team members had even used the technology before. All campers appreciated the introductory lesson Josh Bader provided on how the GPS units use satellites to guide the way.


Josh Bader, a Geography PhD Candidate and part of the Center for Spatial Studies at UCSB (one of Ventura FWO’s partners for the SCALE Project), modified the design of the scavenger hunt based on similar GPS activities he created for college undergraduates in the past.  Kirk and Kate then developed the species and habitat specific questions that the campers had to answer at each location along the trail. The Camarillo YMCA’s Program Director, Brett Lane, supported the project, seeing the benefits of connecting the campers with the outdoors as an opportunity encourage physical activity and to learn to use professional tools in a fun setting.


Josh, Kirk and Kate, along with the help of the camp counselors, served as “mission captains”, or adult group leaders, to accompany the young Space Rangers on their journey. The questions focused on plants and natural features, such as streams, as landmarks located at or near the coordinates the campers were seeking. Each location had a field guide (hidden from plain sight) that the campers could use to find their answers and acted as a confirmation that they had found the right place.  They also were challenged to use other tools in their backpacks that environmental scientists use in their field studies to explore nature and document their findings, such as compasses, journals, thermometers, magnifying glasses and binoculars. These tools were put together in an “Let's Go Outside” backpack, with funding for the backpacks and their contents provided as a part of the Service’s Southwest Pacific Region (Region 8) Connecting People with Nature Initiative.  For example, questions at one location focused on identification of a prickly pear cactus, using the field guide to list its common name, scientific name, and what group of people used this plant for food. A bonus question asked campers to try to identify and take a picture of a lizard (the western fence lizard) commonly found in that sunny spot. Correct answers to bonus questions reduced the overall time spent on the GPS Scavenger Hunt, so many teams attempted these questions.


Each team did a fantastic job and completed the GPS Scavenger Hunt before lunch. It was another great day for the Ventura FWO’s Connecting People with Nature Program. The event provided another opportunity to collaborate again with UCSB partners, create a new partnership with the Camarillo YMCA, and work with such an outgoing group of campers.


Contact: Kate Eschelbach, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003, kate_eschelbach@fws.gov, 805.644.1766 x259



Contact Info: Kate Eschelbach, 8056441766 x259, kate_eschelbach@fws.gov
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