A group of youth are getting a chance to explore the thousands of acres at Sequoyah State Park this week, and they're quickly on their way to becoming junior park rangers.
The Junior Ranger Camp at one of the largest parks in the region kicked off Monday, giving kids the opportunity to roam trails, float along the Fort Gibson Lake, and learn about wildlife conservation and park management safety. The three-day camp started with a visit from an Air Evac Lifeteam out of Muskogee, with students watching while a helicopter that services St. Francis Hospital Muskogee touched down.
"I just started making calls to find something cool for the kids," said Lt. Clint Harrell, of Sequoyah State Park. "To me, nothing is cooler than aircraft. They let the kids crawl all over the aircraft. It takes them an hour to take off when they're done, because they've got to reset and reprogram everything."
The junior rangers played volleyball at the group campsite, waiting for the chopper to swoop in. When the aircraft neared, the students huddled together, gazing in awe as the blades created a vortex of flying leaves and grass when it landed. Harrell said the crew would have landed at Paradise Cove, but it was underwater after all the recent flooding.
The kids talked about the possibility of flying in a helicopter, and whether their nerves could withstand the heights.
Nicole Jones, a flight nurse, said the noise generated by the craft puts most kids to sleep when flying inside. However, Mckynzi Dixon said she would be wide awake.
"I would be super-scared if I was in there," Dixon said. "I would not fall asleep."
The camp is for ages 5-12, and although most of the kids didn't know one another, Harrell said they've quickly become friends. He said cooperation among them will be useful as they participate in activities like boating and horseback riding.
"One very big thing we're focusing on is teamwork," said Harrell. "We want them to bond together as a team. The main thing - first and foremost - is safety, safety, safety. When we take them out on the boats, they're going to get instructions in water safety."
There's a point to every activity, said Harrell. The park rangers want their junior rangers to leave with a little more knowledge than they arrived with. For instance, the first lesson they were taught by the park naturalist focused on poisonous snakes and how to determine which snakes are dangerous.
"We're educating on how to be aware of hazards outside," said Harrell. "They went over what to do if you get a tick bite, and what kind of rash from a tick to look for."
Signs of human presence can be easily spotted in many parks throughout the region. It's not uncommon for outdoor recreational sites to have litter or waste left behind. The folks at Sequoyah State Park are making sure students learn lessons early on about caring for the environment and the state's natural resources.
"We're going to give them instructions about how to be good stewards of the environment," said Harrell. "Leave it better than you found it; that kind of thing. Conservation - we're going to give them instructions and certain things on that. We try to cover briefly everything and be well rounded."
Most of the students are from around the area, like Wagoner, Hulbert, or Tahlequah. Hannah Dan and Hayden Taylor both said they weren't given a choice in the matter, but that the Junior Ranger Camp was "definitely" better than attending school.