Perhaps the day will begin with the hush of still water as your paddle dips quietly right and left, or with the bright flash of fins as a parrot fish darts past your mask. Later, you might listen to the exploits of the Shark Whisperer, or swim in the cave-like grottoes of the Venetian Pool. But before you call your travel agent, check your birth date. Unless you are under 17, you can’t book this vacation, because this isn’t an eco-adventure resort—this is summer camp.
Camp Live Oak is an innovative partnership between a day camp program and the Florida State Parks that combines outdoor sports and activities with an environmental theme. Offered in three South Florida locations (North Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Dania Beach), Camp Live Oak’s goal is to help its campers understand and interact with the unique ecosystems that exist in our own backyard.
“Today, all of us—but kids especially—get wrapped up in technology, and sometimes getting down to basics, getting outside and just appreciating Mother Nature, gets forgotten,” notes Associate Director Susanna Coleman.
The camp offers unique programs for children ages 5-13 as well as a Teen Eco program for ages 14-16. It is one of only a few day camps in Broward and Dade counties to be accredited by the American Camping Association, meaning it meets or exceeds over 300 standards of health and safety, programming, staffing and accountability set by ACA. The head staff is comprised of certified teachers and environmental specialists chosen both for their expertise and for their passion for the summer camp experience.
Does your child love everything about the water? Camp Live Oak’s Science of the Sea Camp at Dania Beach provides interactive science activities that will awaken the oceanographer or marine biologist in every camper. The camp is divided into three-week sessions (June 13-July 1, July 4-22, and August 1-19). Each includes specific weekly themes like shark week, turtle week, and a study of the coral reef ecosystem. Learning is hands-on, as campers investigate their environment through dip/cast and seine netting, crab-trapping, and water-testing. Campers explore the park’s waterways by canoe, kayak, and even SUP (stand-up paddleboard) while discovering how estuaries serve as nurseries and why mangrove trees mean so much to South Florida’s ecosystem.
Like the Dania Beach camp, the programs in Ft. Lauderdale and North Miami are also divided into three-week sessions incorporating environmental themes. Campers explore ancient history, become amateur geographers and paleontologists, and learn about the earliest natives to walk these beaches. Each week features an on-site adventure or a field trip outside of the park, like hiking on Peanut Island, a visit to History Museum Miami, or a Biscayne Bay Expedition. All three camps include a trip to the 820,000 gallon spring-fed Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. The most popular week of the summer is the Ocean Quest week, held July 25-29, which features a snorkeling trip to John Pennekamp State Park’s famous coral reef.
For teens 14-16, Camp Live Oak offers an opportunity to develop leadership skills and log community service hours while learning about the environment and having fun. Teens are assigned to a group of campers aged 5-9 and work with teachers and staff guiding them through a series of outdoor activities. Teens also learn about survival, including orienteering, medicinal plants, primitive cooking, and wildlife identification. During Ocean Quest week, they can also participate in an overnight trip to the Marine Lab in Key Largo.
While there is an educational component to all three programs every day, the real focus of Camp Live Oak is having fun. “It can be difficult these days for parents to let kids go. We provide a safe environment that still gives them the freedom to run around and play,” says Coleman. “Parents love that it is so rustic. Their kids come home dirty and tired. That’s what summer camp is supposed to be.”
In addition to its regular programs, Camp Live Oak offers optional age appropriate activities including surfing, mountain biking, and photography, with materials and gear provided by the camp. Campers can also learn to scuba dive through the PADI Basic Open Water certification class available for ages 10-16 and an Advanced Certification class open to ages 12-16. There is even a Starlight Sleepover in air-conditioned cabins at Birch State Park for campers from all three locations.
With its exciting, innovative programs, there is only one downside of sending your child to Camp Live Oak—you don’t get to go!
For more information, go to www.campliveoakfl.com, call 954-563-4880, or attend one of the open houses: May 21 at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park from 11:00a.m.-1:00 p.m., May 22 at Oleta River State Park from 11:00-1:00 p.m., and May 25 at John U. Lloyd State Park from 5:00-7:00 p.m.