Photo credit: Michael Conti

Tennessee Forestry Camp provides a unique opportunity for high school students involved in FFA to enhance their knowledge of environmental conservation, forestry, community and leadership. First established in 1950, it is one of the oldest forestry camps for teens in the nation.

“A session at Tennessee Forestry Camp is the opportunity of a lifetime for an FFA member, because campers only attend once,” explains director Tim Phelps. The camp welcomes 60 new campers each year from high schools across the state, with a cap of four students per school.

Because this is often a camper’s first experience away from home, Phelps notes, it can be a little uncomfortable at first. It may take a few days for the students to warm up – but soon enough, the awkwardness is forgotten. Following several days of field and classroom learning, the comradery is in full swing. On Wednesday night, campers participate in a variety of contests, including log rolling and an egg toss, and end the evening with a bonfire.

See more: Logging On: Meet a Tennessee Forestry Family

“By Thursday, the campers are sometimes crying because they know they have to leave the next day to go home,” Phelps says.

And the same goes for instructors. Steve Stephens has been working at camp for 10 years.

“The other FFA advisors who help with Forestry Camp and I are hooked,” he says. “We love it and what it offers the students. During the week we see the students grow in knowledge about an area of agriculture that most of them are not associated with.”

Tennessee Forestry Camp

Campers learn how to use a compass at the 70th annual camp; Photo credit: TN Department of Agriculture

Environmental Impact

While Tennessee Forestry Camp celebrates 70 years of tradition, innovations are essential to keeping it current.

“We’re always looking at new approaches, new viewpoints,” Phelps says. “In fact, one of the courses we teach is multiple-use management of forests. We really want to instill in our campers that not everybody has the same perspective on the forest and how to use that forest.”

For Teri Frye, a forester and conservation education coordinator for Project Learning Tree, it’s important to incorporate the insight and passion of actual foresters, who instruct the campers.

See more: Enduring Tennessee Forests

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“Since the kids are at forestry camp, they should be exposed to people who are experts in their content areas.”

Project Learning Tree empowers the foresters to become educators by providing them with easy-to-use, hands-on activities that help them impart their extensive knowledge to students in a fun, interesting way.

“We hope that the experience helps the students develop the ability to make more informed decisions about environmental issues and gain the confidence and the commitment to take responsible actions on behalf of the environment,” Frye says.

Campers from the 3rd annual camp learn how to measure trees using a Biltmore stick; Photo credit: TN Department of Agriculture

Moving Forward

The experience at camp inspires some kids to go on to careers in natural resource management, but that’s not the main objective.

“Equally as important are those who don’t pursue a natural resource degree,” Phelps says. “They at least go away with a better understanding of what forestry is and why it’s important to maintain and sustain our forests in a healthy and productive manner.”

Learn More About Tennessee Forestry Camp

Tennessee Forestry Camp takes place the first week of June at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Courses are taught in the field by professional foresters and include:

• Tree identification and measurement

• Compass and pacing

• Hardwood and pine silviculture

• Wildlife management

• Water-quality protection

• Wildfire prevention

• Forest health issues

• Best management practices for forestry

There are spots for 60 campers, with rustic cabins for accommodations. Meals and snacks will be provided. For more information, contact Tim Phelps at (615) 837-5543.

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