Refuge’s Summer Camp now a community tradition


Marsh-in campers tour the restored wetlands on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

Toria Rico
September 18, 2019

Thank you for providing an opportunity for our kids to participate in something meaningful this summer, and giving us access to something fun and educational that we likely would not have been able to do financially had there been a fee.”

That’s what a parent had to say about their child’s participation in the 2019 Marsh-In Summer Camp on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Alviso, California. Every year the Refuge’s Environmental Education Center hosts this unique and cost-free opportunity for local kids to experience nature among wildlife and wetland habitat, in the middle of a densely populated urban area.


Camp coordinator Toria Rico leads Marsh-in campers in the Fish Song. Credit: USFWS

This summer the camp celebrated its 39th year. It’s a tradition that refuge staff, local families and returning volunteers look forward to renewing. In fact, as word of the camp has spread in the community, applications have grown, topping 100 this year. But thanks to an increase in staff and available volunteers, the refuge was able to expand the number of openings to 72.

The Marsh-In camp is a day program, each day built around a wildlife-related theme. Leading off is Bird Day, followed by Fish Day and Mammal Day. For each, presenters bring in live animals, allowing the campers an up-close encounter with the wildlife found on and around the refuge. Older campers are welcomed back later in the week for an overnight stay under the stars and a chance to learn first-hand about nocturnal creatures.

Many families have had several children attend over the years. Refuge staff and volunteers talk about the consistent gratitude shown by parents. Again and again they hear how much the kids look forward to the camp experience. One mother even described how disappointed her children were when a family vacation prevented them from attending.


Marsh-in campers check out the scales on a baby halibut from CA's Marine Science Institute. Credit: USFWS

Beyond wildlife-themed education, the Marsh-In camp represents a tradition of maturation and leadership.

Teresa Yang started with the camp as a first grader and returned every summer for six years. She then became one of the refuge’s Habitat Heroes, joining other middle- and high-schoolers as group leaders who facilitate camp activities.

This summer was Yang’s 12th, and last, with the camp. Asked why she kept coming back, she said, “When I reached 4th grade, a night away from my parents and under the stars seemed almost dreamlike.” But she got more out of it than she expected. “Habitat Heroes was the first time I was put into a leadership position.” She also stressed the camaraderie: “I love the community created by all of the staff members and volunteers. Despite how infrequently we see each other, we're almost like a family.”


About the writer: Toria Rico is the 2019 Summer Camp Coordinator at the Environmental Education Center of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge