Giving back to the earth: volunteers help out at demo camp

Release Date: 3/5/2012

It was only the second day of March, but already you could feel spring in the air at Ozarks' demo camp. As the balmy breeze whispered through the trees, it was a bit deceiving - if you didn't know better, you might think you were miles out in the country, listening only to the wind and the sound of rakes on the woodland ground.

The sound of rakes? Why would anyone be raking leaves on such a beautiful afternoon? Let's just say the demo camp was in desperate need of help, a little "spring cleaning" if you will, and the students who spent two afternoons working at the camp all had something in common - they love the outdoors and understand the benefits that peaceful places like the demo camp offer.

For those who might not be familiar with the demo camp, it is located on four wooded acres just north of the soccer field. A main ATV trail leads into the camp area where a series of smaller foot trails branch off to individual campsites. Work on the demo camp began in 2010 under the guidance of Brian Hull and the Ozarks Outbackers. The idea was to create a demonstration campground close to campus where students who wanted to go camping - maybe even some who had never camped before - could come over to the demo camp and pitch their tents, but still be within walking distance of their dorm.

Andrew Heim spends an afternoon helping clean up the campsites at the demo camp.

Andrew Heim was one of the student volunteers who helped get the demo camp ready for spring and summer camping and activities.

But many students have discovered that the demo camp is also a great place to go when you just want to get away for a while. Andrew Heim, one of the students raking leaves on that Friday afternoon, said it has become one of his favorite spots on campus. "I come out here to hide, think, work, read…anything," he said. "It's quiet except for the occasional car passing by. It's as close to being in the woods as you can be, but still close enough that if you have a good idea you can just head back over."

Sadly, it was apparent that some of the people who had visited the demo camp over the fall and winter months didn't share his appreciation of the site, and had treated the camp with disrespect. Lauren Ray, who is President of the Ozarks Outbackers, felt that something had to be done. "I come over here every once in a while and just hang a hammock up and read," she said, "And it has been trashed lately - I mean trashed. I don't know who's been coming over here, but goodness! It disgusted me to walk through and see all of that."

So the members of the Outbackers decided to do something about the problem, and organized a cleanup project at the demo camp, inviting members of the campus community to come help out. Students Nelson Beckett, Brooke Conner, Andrew Heim, and Kelsi Ward took them up on the invitation and spent several hours at the camp over the course of two afternoons, working to restore the beauty of the demo camp and get it ready for the spring and summer camping season.

Beckett joined Ray at the demo camp on Thursday afternoon and got the cleanup underway, picking up the trash around the camp. It took several hours of work, but by the end of the day, the majority of the trash had been bagged up and removed from the area. "Our main focus was to pick up the trash, and we got most of that," Ray said.

The next day's efforts focused on simply getting the campsites and trails back in shape. Conner, Heim, Ray, and Ward raked up leaves and sticks that had collected over the winter, and trimmed back the underbrush that had taken root in those areas. Conner said that her only prior visit to the demo camp was last fall, when she came out for the Ozarks Alchemists' Halloween Haunted Trail. The experience was one that left a lasting impression on her - "it was so funny!" she said. "I was raised on a farm, part-time at least," she added, "and I love the outdoors." She said she came out to help with the cleanup as a way to earn some required community service hours, but felt that her time couldn't have been better spent. "Today I've been gathering firewood, and raking leaves," she said, looking back at the cleared campsite.

Being from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Heim said he feels a special appreciation for the demo camp. "There are a lot of places [in Dallas] where there may be an acre or two of wooded area, but you still can't escape the city noise," he said. "Here, it's nothing but land." He said he wanted to do his part to help others enjoy the tranquility he has found at the demo camp. "I've been back here a few times," he said. "If I don't want to go hiking somewhere too far away, I come over here. I heard that it was going into disarray, and when I heard about an opportunity to help clean it up, I said 'I'm over here often enough, I'll come lend what hand I can.'"

The results of the cleanup efforts are pretty dramatic. Walking down the trails, there isn't a piece of trash to be seen on the demo camp property, and the campsites sit cleaned and ready for their next campers. "The four people who've shown up have gotten a ton of work done," Ray said. But as she pointed out, the work wasn't just about getting the area ready for students to use. It also shows visitors that students care enough about the demo camp to volunteer their time to take care of it. She recounted an event that happened during the first afternoon of the cleanup: a couple from Van Buren, Ark. stopped at the demo camp in search of a geo-cache. Because of the students' cleanup efforts, the couple left the area remembering their geo-caching experience, not a trip to a littered piece of property. "People have seen this area - people who are from way out of town - but they don't really know what it is," she said. "It was good that we were here, so we could explain to them what it is, and what we were doing."

Camping season? Bring it on! Thanks to these volunteers, demo camp is ready!