Since 1902, Tamarack Camps in Ortonville (Camp Maas) has been a leader in Jewish camping for ages 7-15, offering a variety of activities including sports, drama, group games, waterfront, swimming and Jewish programming immersed throughout the day.
Tamarack offers outdoor education programs during the summer at Camp Maas and yearlong for the community. Taking center stage for teaching about nature, the environment and sustainability is the addition of the new Teva (Hebrew for nature) Complex.
“We’ve had a nature program for more than 50 years,” said Bailey Lininger, nature center and program supervisor. “This is an exciting new chapter and with the opening of the new Teva Complex, Tamarack’s Teva program has been given a chance to shine.”
The new complex came about because of a generous donation from the Merle Harris family and hard work by Tamarack
Camps staff and board, who envisioned a sustainably designed nature complex to offer space in the center of camp for campers and visitors to connect with and learn about the natural world.
The nature complex has three buildings along with a large covered firepit area.
Most programs take place in the main building, the Shirley and Merle Harris Nature Center, designed with environmental and sustainability concepts (like a living roof) that make it feel a part of the landscape. This building also houses the animals — a goal is to have rehabilitated Midwestern native animals, including a red-tail hawk and a snowy owl.
The second building,
as yet unfinished, houses a kitchen where food education programming will take place.
“Most kids have very little idea where their food comes from and what goes into making food,” Lininger said. “A lot of kids think food just comes from the grocery store and nowhere else.”
Cooking and baking programs will include baking challah and hamantashen and other activities that connect Jewish culture to cooking and food.
The third building is the only one not built for year-round use. And no specific programming is dedicated to this multi-purpose space. During the summer, it will mostly be used for Jewish programming.
“One of the big things we’ve been doing this summer is refocusing what Teva means to campers,” Lininger said. “In addition to having animals for campers to interact with (a mainstay of the original Teva program), the new program focuses on fun, hands-on experiences that encourage campers to explore the 1,200 acres of Tamarackk Camps property that is filled with forests, ponds and marshes.
“Our new programs offer night hikes, wild, edible plant hikes, recycled art projects and learning about animal tracking. It is our hope these programs will change how campers interact with the landscape here at Camp Maas.”
The response from Tamarack campers to the new Teva Complex has been tremendous. Many have said that Teva was their favorite activity. Campers now often choose Teva as their choice for Prime Time (activity of choice) and evening Shmooze activities.
“Counselors who have been at Tamarack their entire lives told me they now want to be here and see what we are doing.”
Lininger is also participating in a fellowship program through the Jewish environmental organization, Hazon. She is one of 17 fellows in the inaugural year of the Jewish Outdoor, Food and Environmental Education (JOFEE) Fellowship.
The fellowship is a yearlong program in which participants are placed at various Jewish institutions throughout the country, and work to facilitate transformative JOFEE experiences for their communities.
The goal of the fellowship is to “invigorate the Jewish educational landscape” by fostering a new generation of Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Educators. Folks at Tamarack Camps say they are pleased to be a part of the first year of this exciting new program. *
The Teva Complex is available during the school year as a classroom for pond ecology, wildlife conservation, and a variety of other science education programs. For more information, contact Meg Mastroianni at (248) 627-2821 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit tamarackcampsoutdooreducation.com.
By Danny Schwartz | JN Intern