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Forest Preserve Camping an Annual Tradition for Suburban Fourth Graders

A group of campers with a Camping Leadership Immersion Course-certified camp leader

Thanks in part to the Forest Preserves’ Camping Leadership Immersion Course (CLIC), fourth grade teacher Amy Boerman-Cornell invites her students each fall at to join her at Camp Sullivan for an overnight camping experience full of hiking, campfires and bonding. For many students it’s their first time camping.

CLIC is designed to empower group leaders to be ready and able to host a camping trip and connect youth to opportunities to learn with and from each other. “I was curious about the program and as a camper myself it sounded quite interesting,” said Boerman-Cornell, who went through the CLIC program several years ago. “I thought I might have a use for the training somewhere in my life – perhaps my own kids, kids at church or my fourth graders.”

A teacher at Calvin Christian School in South Holland, Boerman-Cornell has offered a camping excursion to her students every year since.

CLIC program specialist Katie Grundin said a wide range of groups have done the training, from Chicago Public Schools classes to high school outdoor clubs to churches and synagogues, and everything in between.

“The program helps reduce barriers to outdoors access such as lack of funding, gear, transportation and camping skills,” Grundin said. “Once someone has been through CLIC, they’re ready to be the leader for their group to have a great night sleeping under the stars.”

Participants in the CLIC program, which began in 2015, spend a night at Camp Sullivan learning how to pitch a tent, teambuilding and leadership skills, and about the program’s reservation process and the onsite gear library. Once they graduate, CLIC alumni are able to borrow the library’s tents, flashlights, binoculars, sleeping bags and other items for free. Individuals and families can also rent gear at Forest Preserves campgrounds for a small fee.

This year, the Forest Preserves is opening a new gear library at Camp Shabbona Woods, offering another site for CLIC graduates to bring their group. To use that site, participants are required to also attend a two-hour gear orientation workshop at Sand Ridge Nature Center.

Boerman-Cornell’s camping trips, which are spread over two weekends, are designed to familiarize students with camping so they have positive associations with the activity and access to nature.

“I want to combat misconceptions about nature,” she said. “We want to overcome the ‘I don’t camp’ mindset and get kids used to being outside, even when conditions aren’t the most favorable.”

Parents and students alike enjoy the experience, Boerman-Cornell said, and so much so that one student said she wanted to camp at the site for her birthday. Heaven, another fourth grader at Calvin Christian School, wrote in his assessment after the trip: “It was really fun, and I was happy to go with my dad. At first I was nervous about sleeping in a tent, but it was awesome!”

In addition to the gear library, reservations through the CLIC program give groups of up to 32 campers access to the group site at Camp Sullivan and one-way bus transportation to the campground. The cost for a group is $100 for the first night and $25 for each additional night.

There are three CLIC training dates in 2020: April 18-19, May 30-31 and Sept. 12-13. Learn more at the CLIC webpage.

The Camping Leadership Immersion Course is part of the Outdoors Empowered Network, a network of organizations and programs across the county that works to encourage youth to get outdoors by providing wilderness leadership training and outdoor gear libraries.