My 11-year-old grandson, Lars, has been visiting Camp Casey for a number of years. He’s experienced a s’mores campfire by the sea, hiked in the mystical woods in search of owls, cavorted among the historic Army bunkers, photographed the resident deer, flown kites, beachcombed, and swum in the Casey pool. But as wonderful as all these experiences are, they have met their equal in the Beach Seine adventure he experienced in April.
Casey Site Manager Darrell Jacobsen and his team were warm, friendly, and accommodating. They took a motorboat off the beach and played out a long net in a horseshoe pattern. Once the net was in place, those of us left on shore grabbed onto ropes attached to both ends of the net and pulled it in. Lars was invited to jump into the fray and hauled away with all his might.
Once the net was gathered back to shore, we scrambled among the contents and dropped crabs, sea stars, shrimp, tiny sculpins, and some kind of eel-looking animal into buckets of sea water. Lars’ yelps of delight at catching the energetic ocean creatures were wonderful to hear. He’s in a marine biologist frame of mind right now and when he’s old enough would like to study the environmental sciences at SPU and its Blakely Island Field Station.
The sea creatures we caught were quickly installed back at Camp Casey in gurgling touch tanks housed in the Sea Lab building. Lars and I were shown the resident sea life and were able to observe how the recently arrived “neighbors” assimilated into their new surroundings. Lots of questions from Lars, all of which were patiently answered with good humor and interesting facts from the knowledgeable staff. He was especially attracted to the wolf eel lurking in the kelp. It was a fun time of discovery (and family bonding) that reinforced Lars’ desire to one day work to preserve ocean habitat.
By Clint Kelly
Of the many beauties I’ve seen in this position over the past seven years at Camp Casey, a child’s wonder and growth is at the top. With the many classes we teach that offer engagement with the outdoors, I am never without joy when a child discovers something unique. The delight on a child’s face when they touch or spy a creature, plant or wildlife is inspiring. I’m pretty proud to offer this opportunity to locals, as well as thousands of others who visit us from the region during my tenure at Camp Casey.
Whidbey has many fascinating natural environments surrounding it, but I believe the most diverse and complex habitat is hidden from view. Our Sea Lab probes the biology of the depths by showcasing local marine life and teaching the importance of conservation. The lab features dozens of aquariums that house fascinating creatures such as sea urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers, and last year even a pregnant octopus who was taking up residence in a discarded bleach bottle! This discovery became a startling visual observation for students to personally witness the importance of keeping trash out of our waters. The class is taught by local Keith Ludeman, who has been teaching at Camp Casey for 30-plus years. He’s even seen some of his pupils become teachers and return with their students!
Keith also teaches a class with a hands-on opportunity to discover how the Sea Lab acquires some of its inhabitants through the Beach Seine class. After the net is pulled ashore, Keith takes out the creatures captured and teaches about them, one by one. Many of the animals collected are transported to the Sea Lab, while others are returned to the water.
As Keith has slowed down his walking, he’s trained our new teacher TJ to deliver guided Forest and Meadow Walks that introduce students to the exceptionally diverse habitats nearby. I’ve enjoyed trekking on these with students who find the fun in such nature as slug slime. One only has to walk behind two sixth-grade boys to remember the fun found in nature. The varied landscape of the trail provides the perfect opportunity for the instructor to teach students about the different plants and animals that inhabit the area as the trail goes through the heritage forest and the prairie land nearby. Some of the plants are endangered species or invasive species, which our local EcoNet assists with identifying. Some schools spend time volunteering with local agencies to eradicate an area of invasive species.
As an Oak Harbor High School graduate and former student at Broadview Elementary, I so enjoy welcoming back our local school children for day trips to these classes. The Sea Lab, Beach Seine, and Forest/Meadow Walks are available for registration through schools and non-profit organizations.
We also will be offering another open house on Sunday, June 19 and the Sea Lab will be open with Keith teaching continued conservation and care for our earth and its inhabitants.
2015 marks the 13th year that Lee Southard and his team have brought his Entiat Middle School 6th grade class to Camp Casey. Volunteer parents and leadership chaperones from Entiat Middle School are included in this adventure. This is Lee’s story:
"Many of our students have never left our neck of the woods. Every year I have students that have never been to Seattle; most have never been to the Pacific Science Center or ridden on a ferry.
We stop at Snoqualmie Falls and the Pacific Science Center on the first leg of our trip. First day lunch is always burgers from Seattle’s famous Dick’s Drive-In. We then cross on the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton.
At camp, we participate in the sea lab, beach seine, and forest meadow classes, taught by Keith Ludeman. It is apparent from the students' first contact with Keith that they are in for an educational, entertaining, and fun time. Keith draws the students in even if they are normally not inclined to do so. Whether it’s the “Velcro” he tosses on students during the forest meadow walk, the sea-star pulling the hair off his eyebrows in the sea lab, or pulling of the net in the beach seine, students are engaged and hands-on during one of Keith’s classes.
We go on an Island Historical Tour with former Coupeville teacher Diane Eelkema. The students always enjoy this and learn a lot. Diane is a great storyteller and educator. Without knowing it, students learn about Island history, economics, agriculture, and culture.
Other yearly events are Fort Casey and Admiralty Head Lighthouse guided tours. Students really look forward to playing Capture-The-Flag at the state park. We have a fort building contest on the beach using driftwood. Groups can use any materials on the beach in fort building. Rubrics are provided and forts are judged on structure, aesthetics, essentials, distress signal, etc.
The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is always one of our students' favorite events. Students see aircraft and their pilots up-close. This is another opportunity for our students to see potential future careers that they cannot witness at home. Girls see that there are women pilots, as well as male pilots.
Another great history lesson comes from the Island County Museum tour. This year’s tour included a new Native American display, a tour of the old town, and a tour of the rest of the museum.
During the trip, students are required to keep a record of the experience in their journals. The journals have questions for students to answer. Students also get to draw and diagram pictures. Some of the journal entries require the students to work in groups and complete an activity. When students have to stop and write and draw about their experiences, it gives them more meaning, learning, and memories.
There are countless hands-on learning moments on Whidbey Island. The class sees other cultures and backgrounds other than their own. A benefit from having attended for so many years is that multiple siblings get to share the same experience, even if they are separated by many years. I am always impressed with Camp Casey personnel, as they are friendly and accommodating. Island residents are very helpful and friendly.
In summation, there are many reasons we return every year: New and different experiences that are different than what the students can get at home. Tradition, Island history, friendly and welcoming people, and camp personnel. Scenery, countless learning opportunities, making new friends, and being away from home for days for the first time. These and other benefits keep us coming back."
Entiat Middle School
6th Grade Teacher
In a previous blog, we ended with the walk up the hill from our beach seine experience, having had the chance to speak with a parent who was bringing his daughter, a 1st grade student from Coupeville Elementary, to the Sea Lab. What was unique to that conversation was that the parent had participated in the same experience during his own childhood. The Camp Casey Sea Lab aims to uncover the mystery of the depths by showcasing local marine life and educating guests on the importance of conservation. The lab features about a dozen aquariums that house fascinating sea creatures. As the Sea Lab instructor, Keith Ludeman’s goal is to encourage students to understand that a very important habitat exists in the ocean, even though they can’t see it. They also learn how their actions affect the beaches, oceans, and habitats of these animals.
As the class makes its way into the lab the noise level is almost overwhelming from the students' excitement. Keith’s first display is the Blood Sea Star, pointing out that the stars have as many eyes as they have arms. His approach is to relate to kids based on their age. Older students would be taught the Latin terms for marine life, but in this case he teases by pointing with his finger to two spots on the sea star telling them that he’s picking the star's nose. If he moves his finger, he’s wiping its backside. Squeals of laughter erupt from the class. Next up is a sea urchin. Walking up and down the aisle, he allows the kids a “hands on” experience and answers questions such as, “Where are their eyes?” The Hermit Crab is next lifted from the aquarium with a brief lesson on why crabs cannot be removed from the Sound and taken home as pets. He notes that the temperature of the Sound's water is critical to keeping them alive.
As the sea cucumber is pulled out of the aquarium and squirts water, we notice fewer children are reaching out to touch. Keith gently teases a parent who refuses to put her hand out and now the kids are yelling in unison for her to touch it! Keith makes his way around the classroom and we notice the whiteboard has a question posted: “What's it looks like?” and responses such as "smelly", "juicy", "plump", "bumpy", and "smooth".
Finally we get to see Keith’s prized baby octopus, the same one he mentioned at the beach seine class!
The Sea Lab program at Camp Casey includes a one-hour class, limited to 35 students, with a lecture, tour of the Sea Lab aquariums, and time for questions and answers. The Sea Lab is only open in the spring, so space and reservations are limited. Apart from the Beach Seine and Sea Lab classes, Keith also provides an educational forest and meadow walk for guests at the Conference Center.
Of all the fascinating natural environments that surround Camp Casey Conference Center, the most diverse and complex habitat is hidden from view, under the waters of Puget Sound. Camp Casey’s Sea Lab aims to uncover the mystery of the depths by showcasing local marine life and educating guests on the importance of conservation.
Retired Navy veteran Keith Ludeman’s lifelong passion for biology and zoology inspired him to build the Sea Lab at Camp Casey 32 years ago. He is still employed by Camp Casey and offers students and guests a rare look at the sea life that pervades the Puget Sound just off the shores of Whidbey Island. The lab features about a dozen aquariums that house sea urchin, sea stars, sea cucumbers and other fascinating creatures.
“Basically it’s a live collection of Puget Sound invertebrate sea life. The students get to watch some of the interaction between the animals,” Ludeman said. “There are some of them that, if you put them in the tank with another animal, get upset and run away. The kids would otherwise never see them, because these animals are all in deeper water.”
Some of the animals are collected with a beach seine, which is basically a huge net that Ludeman uses off the shore of the Island. He often employs the help of school children, adults and even sometimes preschoolers and their parents to drag the net to shore. The beach seine experience is another educational opportunity offered by Camp Casey and can sometimes be booked in conjunction with the Sea Lab. The remainder of the animals in the lab are collected by hand in tide pools or by scuba divers from the Emerald Sea Dive club.
The focus of the Sea Lab program is to encourage students to understand that a very important habitat exists in the ocean, even though they can’t see it. They also learn how their actions affect the beaches, oceans and habitats of these animals. Ludeman gives the example of a type of Rockfish, which only breeds every 75-80 years, to illustrate why people should observe fishing limits and regulations. Without regulation these animals would not have a good chance to survive and thrive.
The Sea Lab program at Camp Casey includes a one-hour class, limited to 35 students, with a lecture, lab tour of the aquarium, and a time for questions and answers. The Sea Lab is only open in the spring, so space and reservations are limited.