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Youth discover call of the wild at USF camp

The water boils as an alligator gar as big as a human leg rises to snatch its prey.

"Wow! Did you see that?" a 10-year-old day camper asks his friend.

The girl nods, then lets a bobber and hook fly toward her target. But the cast falls short and the fish moves on.

"Steeeeeeve," she pleads. "Can you help me? Please?"

Before the counselor can respond, there is another query.

"Are we going snorkeling today?" the girl asks. "Please Steve, pleeeeeeease."

Clark smiles. "Hold on, hold on one at a time," he says.

It's just a week into the University of South Florida's first Wilderness Experience day camp and the kids want more.

"They've got to walk away with a good taste in their mouth," Clark said. "That's what we try to do here. We make it fun."

The new program is designed to give youngsters ages 10 to 15 an introduction to Florida wilderness recreation.

"We don't talk about white-water rafting or rock climbing," Clark said. "We focus on what you can do here."

And since Florida is blessed with an abundance of fine paddling rivers, a good portion of the campers' time is spent learning proper canoeing technique.

"You can't stick a canoe paddle in a kids hands and expect them to know how to use it," Clark said.

In addition to learning how to paddle a canoe on open flat water, day campers learn basic map and compass techniques and backcountry hiking and camping skills.

"I grew up running barefoot through creeks, outdoors all the time," Clark said. "But not all kids are that fortunate."

The camp, which runs Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., also introduces children to the equipment needed for outdoor adventure.

"We also try to teach them how to be self sufficient," Clark said. "Everybody who goes through the course becomes knowledgeable of wilderness first aid."

Fishing, a mainstay in the local outdoors scene, also is stressed as the Hillsborough River provides excellent opportunities for bream, bass and gar.

"We teach archery too," Clark said. "Everybody learns how to use a recurve bow and arrow."

And with ample snorkeling destinations around the state, basic snorkeling instruction is offered at the university pool.

"But I think one of the most important things we do is introduce the kids to environmental ethics," Clark said. "They leave here knowing the world is a little bigger than what they see in front of them."

To learn more about USF's Wilderness Experience day camp, call 974-3177. Session No. 2 is Monday through July 7. Session No. 3 is July 10-21. Cost is $150 per child.

Children can sign up 7:30 a.m. Monday at Riverfront Park on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa. Wear shorts, shirt and comfortable shoes, please no sandals. A hat and sunglasses are recommended.

Please note: Children must be able to swim and, while in a canoe, must wear a provided Coast Guard approved life jacket.

_ An expanded outdoors report appears each Friday.

Make your own adventure

If you can't make it to USF's camp, make your own adventure. The Hillsborough river offers excellent outdoor opportunities.

Hillsborough River State Park: Hiking, canoeing, camping, fishing and swimming in a half-acre, man-made swimming area. Call 986-1020.

Canoe Escape: This private outfitter offers a variety of river trips that include pickup and drop-off. But they fill up early. Call 986-2067 for reservations.

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