Beginning Backpacker Camp

By Carrie Scheick, Environmental Education Intern

As an intern at the Delaware Nature Society, I help out with a number of different camps this summer.  I was lucky enough to accompany the Beginning Backpackers led by Brad Reynolds this past week.  We wasted no time lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trails.  After a number of day-hikes to prepare for our overnight, our group hiked 6 miles on Thursday from Ashland Nature Center to Bucktoe Creek Preserve to camp for the night.  We had to then retrace our steps back to Ashland the following day without our fearless leader and guide Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader.  While there were a couple veteran campers returning for the second year, for many of the other campers, this trip was their first time camping.  The hike from Ashland to Bucktoe crosses the Delaware Nature Society’s Red Clay Floodplain property, Auburn Heights State Park, Auburn Heights Preserve, private properties, and Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  This hike can be characterized as exclusive because the Delaware Nature Society receives permission to cross private property; these are the only campers that will trace this unique path this year.  

The route from Ashland to Bucktoe follows old railroad tracks that pass through Piedmont rock outcrops. As one of our first rest stops along the way, these cool, wet rocks were quickly dubbed as “natural air conditioning” as the kids took a break to lean up against them seeking relief from the humidity and heat.

Many of the properties did not have specific trails to follow, so we blazed our own trails.  Pants were essential for this hike to avoid (or at least attempt to avoid) stinging nettle and ticks as the campers bushwhacked through dense vegetation and trekked through fields, some with grass as high as their shoulders.  “It was so pretty!” said Izzy, commenting on the areas where we were hiking.  “It felt like we went so far because of so many different landscapes we walked through.  I saw things you only see in National Geographic or movies!”  They remained in good spirits as they kept trudging forward, pushing themselves physically and mentally towards the goal of our camp at Bucktoe. 

Blazing our own trails through the Delaware wilderness!
We crossed open fields in the hot sun a few times. Obviously, we drank lots of water!

After we got to camp, we dropped off our backpacks and headed down to the creek to cool off.  Most of the girls shredded their boots to sit in a deeper part of the water, while the boys preferred to skip rocks or explore along the banks. 

Laura, Michael, Izzy, and Iris taking advantage of the cool Red Clay Creek.

Over the two days of hiking, we saw a variety of different wildlife.  We saw a wood duck mother and her ducklings in the Red Clay Creek and another in Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  The fields were lined with milkweed attracting a number of Monarch Butterflies.  We also saw a rare Pipevine Swallowtail, a beautiful kind of swallowtail due to its black and iridescent blue wings.  A snapping turtle played camouflage among the rocks in Bucktoe Creek, and both Colby and Kerry found a newt during their explorations.  We saw White-tailed deer fawns scampering through the brush ahead of us and the boys glimpsed a fox as they walked up to the picnic tables for breakfast on Friday morning.  Grace really enjoyed the assortment of wildlife we saw on our trip. “I don’t see those every day!” she said.

Iris, Grace, and Izzy were super excited about the Red Admiral butterfly that decided to hang out with us for a bit at the picnic table before dinner on Thursday night.

A chorus of “Finishing!” was the first response I got when I asked the campers to pick a favorite part of their trek after we successfully made it back to Ashland on our own.  Finishing this trek gave us a great sense of accomplishment; we hiked over 25 miles within a week!  Though we left Ashland Friday afternoon sore and eager to tend to our aching feet and a few blisters, Colby perfectly summed up our Beginning Backpackers experience: “It was all good.”

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