Lassen's Volcano Adventure Camp
By Laura Christman
Back to Nature
By Laura Christman
Photos Courtesy of Lassen Volcanic Camp
THERE’S MUCH to be learned in a place with no cell service but plenty of stars. Camping in the forest is an opening to discoveries about nature — and yourself. The youth camping program at Lassen Volcanic National Park has a long history of encouraging curiosity, confidence and camaraderie through camping. And now it has a new facility.
Volcano Adventure Camp opened last summer. An $807,000 makeover turned Crags Campground near Summit Lake into a youth facility with 10 canvas cabins and two picnic pavilions plus campfire circles, solar showers and vault toilets. Lassen Park Foundation contributed $448,000; Lassen Park funded $359,000.
“It’s just a first-class facility. I’m very proud that our board of directors worked so hard in the fund-raising efforts to get this done,” says John Koeberer, chair of the Lassen Park Foundation board. The foundation supports programs and facilities at Lassen Park and recently earned the prestigious Director’s Partnership Award from the National Park Service.
The camping program for ages 6 through 18 began 22 years ago and is a partnership of the foundation and Lassen Park. The foundation offers grants up to $1,000 per group trip. The money can be spent on sleeping bags, flashlights, food, transportation or other needs. The foundation also funds two seasonal youth rangers, who provide environmental education through hikes and other activities.
Typically, national park youth camping programs are run by a vendor or solely by the national park. “Our system is unique with our nonprofit providing the funding, and then handing off to the National Park Service,” says Jennifer Finnegan, executive director of the foundation.
Prior to Volcano Adventure Camp, participants pitched tents in campgrounds. The notion of taking a bunch of children tent-camping for the first time was daunting for some.
“What we really needed was a facility just for the youth groups,” Finnegan says.
“The infrastructure — having those tent cabins, showers — makes it much more manageable for these group leaders,” says Robert Cromwell, Lassen Park education specialist. “This site makes it much easier to get that first-time camping experience.”
“It really has allowed us to do a much better job rain or shine,” Koeberer says.
The new digs get top marks from Christina Massey, director at Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Community Center in Redding. “The cooking area that’s covered, that’s a big deal when you’re working with Lassen weather. Actually having showers there is really important for us. It’s incredible. It makes the trip more enjoyable.”
The center brought 25 youths to Volcano Camp last summer. They tackled camp chores, learned how to use compasses, got lessons on volcanoes and took hikes.
“Some kids have camped with families, but we work with a lot of foster kids who haven’t had that opportunity. A lot have never been to Lassen,” Massey says.
Intermountain Teen Center, serving Burney and Round Mountain youth and part of Hill Country Health and Wellness Center, has participated in the camping program for three years. The teens love the trips, says Jed Smith, youth case manager at Hill Country.
“One of the greatest aspects is being in a location where there’s no cell service, so it forces the kids to interact in a more personal, immediate manner with each other,” he says.
Hiking to the top of Lassen Peak and cooking a meal for the group are accomplishments that build confidence during the trips.
“I work with some teens who have severe mental health diagnoses, and they always return home happier, more content and with higher self-esteem,” Smith says.
Rick Magazine, assistant recreation coordinator at Youth for Change in Paradise, says the program is powerful for the group home youths. “They are learning how to cook in camp, how to plan for a hike, how to take care of gear.”
Tackling the trail to the top of Lassen Peak can be a highlight, Magazine says. “They exhibit a lot of pride and talk for weeks and weeks about summiting.”
The youth camping program at Lassen Park has a wide reach. “We get groups from Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles. Last year a group came all the way from Florida,” Cromwell says.
Seeing the Milky Way, swimming in a mountain lake or experiencing the hissing geothermal power of Sulphur Works can be a big deal. Developing a connection to nature and fostering stewardship are important parts of the program, Cromwell says.
“I want them to understand that national parks belong to them,” he says.
Last summer, Volcano Camp hosted 38 groups compared with 27 the previous year. Finnegan expects growth to continue. Plans are in the works for the second phase of the camp, which would include more cabins, campfire pits and picnic tables. •
Lassen Volcanic National Park • www.nps.gov/lavo
Photos courtesy of Lassen Volcanic National Park.