by Heather Tomlinson
The Liberty Nature Center, formerly the Southwestern High School Raptor Rehabilitation Center, may have some new digs, but the opportunities for young kids to get up close and personal to nature still abound.
“Camp Liberty!” will allow young people to explore the outdoors, interact directly with some of the creatures housed at the center, and learn how to be environmentally responsible. The camp will be held June 9-13.
“With college-aged instructors, almost 28 acres to explore, and new curriculum, this year’s camp is sure to be the best one yet,” said Liberty Nature Center Executive Director Hunter Kinney. “We’ve added in a special station this year to allow campers to learn, touch, and hold some of the animals we care for.”
Kinney is one of many former SWHS students who was affected by his years with the SWHS Raptor Center. The program had been mostly SWHS-centered, although it was always open to students from other schools. But because the center was housed near SWHS, the program became known as primarily a school-specific one.
Francis Carter, teacher at SWHS and the head of the raptor rehabilitation program, announced in September 2013 — during the club’s always-popular open house event — that she would be retiring from teaching this upcoming May. But she quickly calmed the fears of those worried about the future of the award-winning program by announcing it would move to a different location.
The Liberty Nature Center is moving off-campus to a 27.5 acre farm off Slate Branch Road, which will pave the way for more educational options for all students in the county. Carter has said students from Science Hill Independent School and Northern Middle School have already pitched in and volunteered at the center during the transition. The Liberty Nature Center will be open to volunteers in seventh grade and above, although one-on-one interaction with the raptors will be designated to the older students.
The new facilities will be state-of-the-art and will include a lab area. The new program will also offer students experience and training in business, advertising, journalism, photography, technology, management, and scientific research.
“This is really going to make a difference for the students,” said Kinney in an earlier Commonwealth Journal article, who will return and work full-time with the Liberty Nature Center after he graduates from UK in 2015.
The Liberty Nature Center is named after one of the program’s raptors, a bald eagle named Liberty who passed away a couple years ago. Liberty is only one in many raptors the program has worked with, including golden eagles, vultures, owls, falcons, and even a raven at one point.
“Camp Liberty!” will be held June 9 through 13 at the Liberty Nature Center, which will be developed into a Wildlife Conservation Park in the upcoming years.
This year’s camp will feature a small-group learning environment where campers will be afforded more attention thanks to a higher staff-to-student ratio, according to Kinney. Each group will rotate through eight stations where they will use a hands-on approach to discover environmental education topics.
And the opportunity to hold a screech owl — easily the most popular camp activity in past years — will still be available.
“It has been obvious in previous years that holding our screech owl is probably the single-most effective tool we have for teaching these young enthusiasts how important it is for humans to live sustainably,” said Kinney.
The camp will run from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, is limited to 75 campers based on a first- come, first-serve basis. There is a $100 fee to cover five days of instruction, five days of lunch, supplies, a T-shirt, and other take home keepsakes.
However, thanks to anonymous donations, scholarships are available for campers in need.
Liberty Nature Center will offer sibling discounts as well.
For more information on camp visit www.libertynaturecenter.org and click on the “Camp Liberty!” button. There you can also find an online registration form.
Payment will be due on the first day of camp.
And if students don’t attend the camp, Kinney emphasized that any students in the Lake Cumberland area in seventh grade or above can volunteer at the center year-round.
More information on volunteering can be found on the website as well.
For more information on the Liberty Nature Center or “Camp Liberty!” contact Kinney at email@example.com or at 606-679-WILD(9453).
To get to the new location, drive on Slate Branch road until you come to the four-way stop. Turn left onto Bridge Hollow Road. The property is about a mile down that road.