Campers step back in time

Campers at Heritage Days listened to various presentations about 1800s settlers’ lifestyles, as well as the animals. Courtney Schultz/Pilot photo

Campers at Heritage Days listened to various presentations about 1800s settlers’ lifestyles, as well as the animals. Courtney Schultz/Pilot photo

Area campers experienced a hands-on adventure into history last month at the President James K. Polk State Historic Site. 

The historic site hosted “Heritage Days Summer Camp: Backcountry Explorers” July 28 to 30 for campers 8 to 13 years old. Campers learned about the Catawba Indians and the early settlers who lived off the land in Mecklenburg County more than 200 years ago. Kids also engaged in a nature scavenger hunt, as well as hands-on activities, such as crafts and skits. 

Community volunteers taught the campers about settlers’ lifestyles, including cooking and travel, Sara Walker, a historic interpreter at the historic site, said. The camp featured the site’s active kitchen, where campers witnessed a historic fireplace in action, in addition to a handmade wagon structure created by the James K. Polk State Historic Site staff to demonstrate travel of the 1800s.

“A lot of kids don’t know how hard it was back then to travel,” Walker said.

The campers also learned about the concept of interdependence and “how (the settlers) had to work together. That’s what I wanted them to learn,” Walker said. “It’s about really understanding how they had to work together during that time period and how they lived off the land.”

But camp coordinators wanted the camp to be more than just a history lesson, as the kids went out into the elements of the sprawling grounds where the Polk family once farmed.

“They get a little bit of everything,” Renee Kent, a summer intern at the site, said. “They have gotten a lot of history, since this is a historical site, but they’ve also gotten a lot of nature stuff, too.”

“I liked combining history and fun,” said 10-year-old camper Felicity Hangyas. “I really liked doing skits … learning about the custodial wagon and James K. Polk.”

Walker wanted to make the camp different than ones previously done at the center while giving the children a unique experience they might not have experienced during one of the field trips Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students used to make to the historic site.

“There have been camps that have run here before, just different themes I believe, not so much outdoors, which I think is important,” Walker said. “You have to combine natural history with cultural history and bring it together.”

The camp concluded with a wildlife demonstration from naturalists at Chimney Rock State Park, where campers met and learned about various wildlife they could potentially see in their own backyards.

Walker believes the campers enjoyed themselves over the three days. “I know all the kids want to come back next year,” she said.

Individuals interested in the historic site’s upcoming events should go to the site’s website, www.presjkpolk.com, or contact 704-889-7145 or polk@ncdr.gov.

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Courtney Schultz

About Courtney Schultz

Courtney Schultz is a recent college graduate from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. She has both a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Political Science. At Campbell, she was the editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper for nearly three years and worked for the Siskey YMCA in their membership services and marketing department. She mostly covers education news for the Matthews, Mint-Hill, and greater Charlotte areas.

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