Camp El Ranchito - A Natural Place for KidsPosted by Whole Earth | 08.11.2023
Camp El Ranchito - A Natural Place for Kids
Summer is traditionally a time for kids to play outdoors, swim at the pool and, if they're lucky, spend time at summer camp. But a summer vacation like this can be out of reach for many young Texans. Thanks to Camp El Ranchito, these children and teens can experience firsthand the adventure and fellowship of days of exploration and nights spent under the stars.
In 2007, El Bueno Samaritano, Westcave Preserve, and the Shield Ranch Foundation created Camp El Ranchito as a nature immersion scholarship camp for Austin kids who otherwise would not have access to the overnight camp experience. Ninety percent of the campers qualify for free or reduced lunch programs at school. The campers are divided into two groups. The Nature Discovery Camp is for 4th through 8th graders. The Conservation Corps is for students in 10th through 12th grades.
The Nature Discovery Camp focuses on activities that include hiking, swimming in natural swimming holes and creeks, field trips to Westcave Preserve, games, and teambuilding challenges. At night there's stargazing with visiting astronomers, and storytelling around the campfire. Texas Parks & Wildlife leads angler education classes, and there are special activities like rock climbing and kayaking.
The Conservation Corps activities include restoring wildlife habitats and building trails as well as kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing, and caving. These campers learn valuable job skills and earn a $400 stipend for their work.
The 14-acre campsite for El Ranchito is on the Shield Ranch and has an open-air pavilion, 11 screened shelters, and a camp kitchen. The camp is 100% off the grid relying on rainwater collection and solar power. It is also available for nature-immersion programming events for community and non-profit groups during the remainder of the year. Take a look at the El Ranchito experience in this video.
The Shield Ranch is located at the center of the Barton Creek watershed, 18 miles southwest of downtown Austin. Founded in 1938 by Fred and Vera Shield, the 6400-acre ranch makes up 10 percent of the Barton Creek Watershed that contributes water to the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs. Six miles of Barton Creek run through the ranch. In the late 1990s, the family committed 93 percent of the property to conservation easements with The Nature Conservancy and the city of Austin. Conservation easements allow landowners to preserve ownership of their property while preserving natural features and water quality for generations to come.
Today the Shield Ranch comprises three ranches with over 37,000 acres of land. In addition to the land in the Barton Creek Watershed, the ranch includes Camp Wood, which is located on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country and overlaps the Tamaulipas Thornscrub and Chihuahuan Desert ecoregions of South and West Texas and Cherry Canyon, located in the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion. All three ranches partner with conservation organizations, universities, and government entities to carry out research and protect the land and wildlife.
The emblem of the Shield Ranch is the Painted Bunting. This colorful Texas native can be found on all three ranches and is a symbol of the family's dedication to the preservation of the land and sharing their love of the natural world with generations of young Texans.