Montana Wilderness Camp a Big Hit for Kids, Volunteers Alike
By Deborah Brae Tanner, Bugle Intern
It happens every July, and it is the most rewarding thing LaDonna Maxwell does all year. Maxwell, a family nurse practitioner and the RMEF’s Montana state district chair, joins some 30 volunteers—many from the Elk Foundation—at the Jack Creek Youth Camp deep in the mountains of southwestern Montana to teach wilderness skills to 50 campers ages 12 to 19. The camp attracts kids from California to North Carolina who converge on the Jack Creek Preserve, set on the edge of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness near Ennis.
Activities include workshops on archery, bugling, antler scoring, fish identification, noxious weed identification, map-reading, photography, wilderness survival, first aid and horseback riding. “We want to educate them about the outdoors. They see moose, elk, bears and every kind of wildlife,” Maxwell says. “Some of them have lived in cities and never been exposed to that.”
Twelve-year-old Warren Holder has attended the camp for the past three summers. “The things you learn at the medical station can save your life when you’re in the wilderness,” he says.
Holder learned to shoot a bow at age 2. He shot his first turkey with a bow last spring, and killed his first antelope in August. This year Holder won the advanced archery competition at the camp, and donated his prize, a Matthews bow, to 16-year-old David Cano, another camper who is also a bowhunter. Cano’s own bow broke a week before camp started.
“My parents are rifle hunters,” Cano says. “The camp got me interested in bowhunting.” He attended the camp because the classes teach all the things he likes doing. Cano plans to return as a volunteer when he is too old to be a camper, just as other past campers have done.
“This camp is special,” says David Holder, Warren’s dad, a firefighter, RMEF member and a three-year camp volunteer who teaches a workshop on elk calling. “We’ve only touched the surface of what we can accomplish.”
The 4,600-acre Jack Creek Preserve is the pride of longtime conservationists and Elk Foundation supporters Jon and Dottie Fossel, who created the camp to give something back to their two biggest passions: wildlife and sharing the outdoors with children. But they are quick to give credit for the success of the camp to the volunteers. “Without the Elk Foundation this camp wouldn’t happen,” Jon says. “I know all the volunteers walk away the same way I do, with goosebumps at the kids’ reactions.”
For more information about the Jack Creek Youth Camp, contact the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation at (406)682-7645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.