A Journey Through the Redwoods with Bird Alliance of Oregon Campers

By Chloe Kov, TALON Intern

Towering over me in Jedediah State Park, redwoods of over 300 feet invited me and the 23 campers from Bird Alliance of Oregon to experience nature in a way we hadn’t before. The sky was only slightly visible through the trees when we arrived and the middle school-aged campers stared in awe at the gigantic trees.

We traveled 320 miles to spend six days among the giants, which would give us just enough time to fully immerse ourselves in the redwoods. During those six days, we hiked many miles through old-growth forests, played on fallen trees, swam in warm rivers, and learned about the history surrounding redwood trees.

I joined the trip as neither a counselor or camper, but to document and capture the experience with photos and memories.

Even though the kids were the ones on an educational trip, I found myself learning alongside them not only about the redwoods but about life in general.

Take a peek through my lens as I journey through the redwoods alongside 23 curious campers.

Day One: The Long Journey

On the first day, it took us a whopping nine hours in total to travel from Portland to Howland Hill Outdoor School at Jedediah Smith State Park. Even though the journey south was long, the kids remained energetic, enthralled with the changing atmosphere as the bus made its way down the highway. I opted to take a nap for most of the ride with Mr. Panda, my pillow pet. The soundtrack for the ride was campers singing the same three songs over and over again—not the most soothing lullaby but I’m glad they were having fun.

Once the campers stepped foot in the redwoods they began exploring—scaling large stumps scattered throughout the camp. As night fell, the children made a journal that would hold all of their thoughts about the trip.

Photo by Chloe Kov

Day Two: This Land Was Made For You and Me

From the redwood forest to the Smith River waters, the campers explored.

The first stop was Stout Grove. To get there we walked over the glistening turquoise water by way of a long narrow bridge. It reminded me of the “Bridge To Terabithia” novel I read as a child because as we got off of the bridge, it was like we were transported into an ethereal world. To the kids, the forest became a jungle gym- using the bark as finger holds to climb, crawling through tunnels of hollowed out trunks, jumping on chunks of wood to spring them back up like a trampoline, and sliding down smooth slanted trees. During our time walking through the redwoods Abby, an environmental educator, taught us that during the 1800s, when the settlers went westwards, they chopped down redwood trees for logging. As the redwoods rapidly diminished efforts to preserve the remaining redwoods went into effect, though this was not until the late 1910s.

Photo by Chloe Kov

An estimated 95% of the old-growth redwoods have fallen to the hands of man. We also learned that preservation of the redwoods is extremely important because redwood forest are a carbon sink that holds 209 tons of carbon per acre! There are no other forests in the world that captures as much carbon as the redwoods.

Afterward, they went to Smith River to swim in the clear water. The ones that opted out of getting wet stayed by the shore searching for tiny spotted frogs.

Day Three: Uncovering the Mystery of the Paul Bunyan Statue

On day three, we went to the Trees of Mystery and hiked through a forest filled with oddly shaped trees such as the cathedral trees and the lightning bolt tree. There were also several humongous wood carvings displaying various animals and people. Afterward, we got to ride the SkyTrail gondola to view the tops of trees, where the kids kept on taunting me with the fragility of our mortality by saying how the SkyTrail could fall any second and it would be lights out… 

Before leaving, we saw that the Paul Bunyan Statue was animatronic and could speak. Initially, they thought that the Statue was relaying fixed phrases but then were astonished when he began to address them personally. This led towards an onslaught of children throwing questions at “Paul” to see where the real person was inside of the statue.

Afterward, we took a five-mile hike near the campsite.  We trekked through old growth and new growth forest to get to a small creek.

Tired out by the hike, we ended the evening by the fire to roast s’mores.  It was very entertaining watching as some kids would sit by the fire for hours to get their marshmallow a perfect golden brown while others stuck theirs into the fire creating an edible tiki torch.  

Day Four: Tidepooling and Skipping Rocks

After waking up to the long cacophonic song of the Pacific Wren and the bursting chirps of the Steller’s Jay calls, we headed off the beach. Skillfully maneuvering on the slippery rocks, the campers searched the tidepools for sea anemones, sea stars, and Striped shore crab. Whereas I clumsily walked over the rocks using one hand to hold the camera and the other to grasp rocks in an attempt to stabilize myself while scoping out for some good action shots.  

Then we went to hike Big Tree Trail, and as the name suggests, we saw a lot of big trees. The kids used their bodies to measure the circumference of all the huge redwoods. Hugging trees is now my preferred way of measuring them. Sorry Natural Resources teacher, D-tapes are a thing of the past.

Nearing the end of this day, my camera died and every outlet in the campsite refused to work. As an outcome of this, I not only had to delete every app on my phone to create storage for all the pictures but it also made the kids want me to join every game they were playing. That is where everything took a turn…

When we returned back to camp, campers played an intense game of capture the flag. They thought it would be a good idea since I was wearing camouflage to sneakily go through the forest. Whilst trekking through the ferns and tree to capture the opponent’s base, I felt a sharp burning sensation spanning multiple spots across my body. I had gotten stung by wasps! I jetted out of the forest and found the closest environmental educator or counselor to help me. They gave me alcohol wipes and benadryl.

Day Five: Cleawox Lake

As soon as the sun came up the children began packing up camp to travel to a new campsite back in Oregon.  On the way to Honeyman State Park, we took a break at Cleawox Lake. The campers excitedly played in the sand and splashed in the water.

They returned back to a visitor center to hand in their redwoods work booklet in return for a junior ranger badge. Guess who also became a Junior Ranger? That’s right—me. I may be an adult on paper but I am a kid at heart.

Day Six: Dunes and Impending Doom of the End (of Camp)

As soon as the campers woke up and ate breakfast, they packed away all their things. But some of them struggled to take down their tent. So me, being the master tent-put-awayer, came to the rescue and took down all their tents so we could head out in a timely manner.

One the drive back, we took a pit stop at the Oregon Dunes, which overlooked the trees and the Pacific Ocean. On the dunes, campers rolled, ran, somersaulted, and cartwheeled down the sandy slopes. Without worrying about being covered in sand for ages, they buried themselves in the sand to become mermaids and mermen.

The kids could not go back home without their quick fix of treats, so they stopped by Newport to go to several candy shops and bought as much candy as the counselors allowed (don’t worry parents – it was only one serving size of a candy of their choosing).

When the children reached the familiar windy roads that take them up to Bird Alliance of Oregon, they sang “Take Me back, Country Road” one last time as a parting song.

During the last bead ceremony, I was not able to show my appreciation to everyone because it was way past the campers bedtime. So instead I will say it now in hopes that they stumble upon this. Thank you to Abby to make sure the kids were having a good time. Thank you to Jane for always being kind and compassionate. And thank you to Shane who let all the counselors roast you harder than the hotdog Aislin burnt.

Thank all three of you for educating the youth about the environment and providing a place for them to learn and grow. Furthermore, thank you to all of the counselors for showing me how to interact with children and for nursing me whilst I was stung by a wasp. Last but not least, thank you to all the middle schoolers. Your love and enthusiasm for nature is going to be the driving force we need to make a change. Much love <3.

Photo by Chloe Kov

Going to the Redwoods with 23 middle schoolers was quite the adventure. It was a true roller coaster of emotions—excitement, exhaustion, joy, frustration—you name it, we felt it. There were times when I questioned if I could make it through, but when they welcomed me into their “fam” I realized that kids are alright.  

Over the trip, I gained some very valuable lessons:

Number one: engaging with multiple people for a long span of time may be exhausting at times but is also uplifting if surrounded by amazing individuals.  

Number two: nature fights back, so do not disrespect it by intruding on their land, running around acting without respect.  

Finally number three: seeing children’s enthusiasm to learn is powerful. I realize that they are extremely smart, and that they are not only the future (like so many adults say), they are the now and we should value and listen to what they have to say.