For the second year, the BLM and Friends of El Mirage hosted the Great American Backyard campout under the brilliant, starry skies of the El Mirage Dry Lake Off-Highway Vehicle Area. Led by Park Ranger Dani Haskell, 35 kids were caught up in the contagious enthusiasm of Dani and her crew of BLM employees and volunteers. As the kids stepped out of their vans, their eyes became wide with wonder -- and a touch of fear -- at the wide expanse of desert that lay before them. But those fears were laid to rest quickly as Ranger Art Basulto led them on a hiking adventure to unlock the secrets of the desert environment.
Most of the campers at the Great American Backyard Campout came from San Bernardino, known to be the second poorest city in the United States with a population of more than 200,000. At El Mirage, the kids were able to leave the concrete and tension of their city lives behind them and just be kids.
Thanks to the Urban Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps, the kids also had older more experienced mentors to help them set up tents, make their s’mores, and teach them camping skills. As the sunlight transitioned to moonlight and then the flickers of a campfire, the kids met the BLM California Desert District’s Barbara Croonquist and her live reptiles of the desert. They learned about Search and Rescue from John and Chris Sterling of the Apple Valley Search and Rescue Posse. Special guest, Pomona College professor Javier Galvez demonstrated the art of Aztec dancing and spoke to the kids about the Mayan and Aztec cultures.
For their dedication in working with area youth, Dani Haskell of the Friends of El Mirage and Art Basulto of the Barstow Field Office received several federal and state commendations. Both received Congressional recognition for promoting and implementing the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, recognition from the California Assembly for their dedication to educating youth, recognition from the San Bernardino City Council for their dedication for connecting urban youth with nature, and recognition from the Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire and AmeriCorps.
With the dawn of the new day, the kids cooked their own pancakes and folded up camp. The apprehension of going to somewhere unknown had clearly been replaced by laughter and campfire memories. In addition, each child received a new sleeping bag to take home in the hope of encouraging all to get outdoors and enjoy public lands.
Special thanks to Friends of El Mirage Nicole and Jon Slapper, Dina Lynn, Peggy Hazel, and Jimmy Lynn for their assistance in making the Great American Backyard Campout such a success.
- Barbara Croonquist, BLM California Desert District (July 2012)
BLM-California News.bytes, issue 538 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: mailto:Join-Newsbytes@List.ca.blm.gov OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.