Sportsmen's League gets youth into the outdoors
Glenn Baker's dream of going to the University of Notre Dame to earn a degree in business has been crushed.
Not that he minds.
Baker, who will be a sophomore at Penn-Trafford High School this fall, now has his heart set on attending Penn State University and majoring in fisheries or wildlife sciences. That's what a week at the youth conservation school run by the Westmoreland County Sportsmen's League can do to you.
"The only thing I don't like about the school is that it's only one week long. It's over too soon," Baker said. "Other than that, it's a lot of fun."
Kids have been saying the same thing about the school for better than four decades now.
The County League's conservation school is not the only one of its kind. There are about 16 similar events held around the state, from Beaver and Crawford counties to Warren to York.
The Westmoreland school is one of the longest running, however. It got its start in 1965, founded in large part by Chuck DeNunzio of Penn Rod and Gun Club. It's been held every year since, save one, giving two dozen or so kids ages 13-15 each summer the chance to learn about things like wildlife, fisheries, boating, camping, hunting, tree identification, composting and more.
"We're not here to teach them how to kill, gut and skin an animal," said one of the school's adult leaders, John Kozubal of Penn Township. "But we do want to teach them why the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission and the Bureau of Forestry do what they do for wildlife and habitat."
"The goal is to give them some background and knowledge so that in the future they can make good decisions regarding the environment and conservation and wildlife," added Bill Lennert, a former Greensburg resident now living in Erie who comes back to help run the school.
For the kids, though, the school is simply fun.
Baker first attended the school two years ago. He got to canoe for the first time, kayak for the first time, and shoot his first 12-gauge shotgun. He had such a good time, he came back this year as a junior counselor.
Joining him was Emily Schantz of Murrysville. Now a senior at Slippery Rock University majoring in parks and recreation, she's enjoyed some firsts at the school in past years, too. She had never fired a muzzleloader prior to attending the school as a teen, for example.
Getting to meet new friends has always been one of the main attractions for her, however.
"You get kids here who come in not knowing each other and by the end of the week it's like they grew up together. It's a blast," Schantz said.
The school has changed with the times. Originally campers and counselors slept in canvas tents pitched in a field. Now, they sleep in modern cabins equipped with electricity for hair dryers and refrigerators at Keystone State Park. Some of the classes offered have changed, too. This year, in addition to learning to orient with a compass, kids also learned about geocaching with GPS units.
What hasn't changed is how much the kids love to get outside and explore the outdoors, said Archie Bossart, a past president of the County League who has been involved with the school since 1976.
"Oh, they're all wonderful kids. And they're already interested when they get here," Bossart said. "Their parents don't push them. They don't make them come. The kids are here because they want to be here."
Teens who live in Westmoreland County get preference for the youth conservation school run by the County Sportsmen's League, but youngsters from other areas are welcome, space permitting. In years past, children from Allegheny, Cambria, Somerset, Fayette and Indiana counties -- even from North Carolina -- have attended as well.
Cost for the camp is $100, the same as it's been for the past 15 years. Fundraisers held throughout the year make that possible. Those same efforts also allow the County League to send two or three students from each class to the annual statewide Conservation Leadership School run held at Stone Valley Recreation Area in Huntingdon County.
For information on next year's camp, contact John Kozubal at 724-744-7344 or write Vanessa Schantz at 5035 Wallace Road, Murrysville, Pa. 15668.
For information on the youth conservation school in Beaver County, contact John Paul Scherfel at email@example.com or 724-378-1701.