April 26, 2006 | By: Terri McLean

The Kentucky Forest Leadership Program has all the makings of a summer camp. But organizers of the five-day, overnight experience for soon-to-be high school juniors and seniors say it’s anything but.

“We try not to even refer to it as a camp,” said Doug McLaren, forestry specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, which sponsors the program. “It’s an intense, hands-on learning experience.”

Scheduled June 5-9 at the Kentucky Leadership Center on Lake Cumberland in Jabez, the Kentucky Forest Leadership Program is really a crash course in forestry, minus the books and lectures. Each year, as many as 35 young people take a week out of their summer schedules to learn firsthand about the state’s most plentiful natural resource, McLaren said.

“We literally go from 8 in the morning till 10 or 11 at night. It’s nonstop and every moment is a learning experience,” he said.

That’s not to say the “campers” don’t have fun. On the contrary, said Extension entomologist Blake Newton, who runs a concurrent entomology program for those who want to learn more about insects in the forest.

“Even though it’s super intense, I’ve never seen a kid who has had a bad time,” Newton said. “It’s so different from the faces I see when I go into schools to speak. Sometimes they’re looking at their watches or cutting up. These kids (who attend the program) are so intent on doing the stuff that we want them to do the whole time that it becomes a great experience for them.”

The success of the Kentucky Forest Leadership Program, which has been in existence for more than 50 years, is its “get your hands dirty” approach to learning, McLaren said.

Campers work with natural resource professionals to learn how to identify and evaluate trees and insects, analyze soils, assess water quality, and survey wildlife habitats in the forest. A popular segment involves research on bats.

“The whole week we’re building towards Friday, where they will actually develop for us a management plan for 60 acres of forest,” he said. “They will acquire lifelong learning skills based on observation, evaluation and action.”

At the same time, participants are also exposed to a variety of careers in forestry-related fields, Newton said.

“I think it’s important to show these kids what a career looks like,” he said. “They stay busy all day long doing the same types of things you do on the job – the very things either a forester, a natural resource manager or entomologist would do.”

Although some who have attended the Kentucky Forest Leadership Program have gone on to pursue careers in forestry or natural resource management, McLaren said that is not the program’s goal.

“I don’t necessarily want any of these kids to go into forestry. I want them to become doctors and lawyers and teachers and to go out into their communities, and when an issue comes along dealing with forestry or natural resources, they can stand up and speak out,” he said.

May 19 is the deadline to apply for one of the limited spots in this year’s camp. Only students entering their junior or senior year in high school and who have a C or higher grade point average will be admitted. Cost for the program, including overnight accommodations, is $195. A nonrefundable deposit of $50 is required with registration.

“We’re basically looking for individuals who have an interest in forestry and natural resources of some sort and have a strong desire to learn,” McLaren said.

For more information about the program or to register, contact McLaren in the UK Department of Forestry at (859) 257-2703. Camp information is also available online athttp://www.uky.edu/Ag/Forestry/kflp/kflp.htm andCritter Files.


Doug McLaren, (859) 257-2703