“Why is Point Judith important? It’s important because it’s important to me. And it’s important to some of you too, I assume, since you’re here.”

Prentice Stout shows campers a moon snail egg mass.

Prentice Stout shows campers a moon snail egg mass. Photo © Prentice Stout.

Local author and Camp Fuller educator Prentice Stout highlighted the importance of cultivating a personal relationship with local natural places in a talk given on March 9th at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown, Rhode Island. Stout’s work has brought him all the way to Antarctica, but he says that his true love remains Point Judith Pond. An accomplished photographer who has worked with such organizations as the Audubon Society, Stout narrated a slideshow featuring some of his photography of Point Judith Pond along with scenes from his work as an environmental educator.

Stout is the founder of the SeaQuest program at Camp Fuller. Through this program, he introduces young people to the ecosystems and wildlife of Rhode Island salt ponds. Many of the campers who attend Camp Fuller aren’t local, and Stout explains that this program gives kids the opportunity to see something that many of them may never see again. Even if campers never return to Point Judith Pond, the experiences that they have at the camp stay with them, he says.

Stout says that the program at Camp Fuller gets kids involved and engaged in the natural world in a way that sitting in a classroom can’t do. He explains that it’s the wonder and sense of discovery that are important. Open-ended environmental education programs like SeaQuest give kids the chance to explore, get dirty, and ask questions. Though this program, kids develop their own connection with the natural world.

This connection is integrally important to the future of places like Point Judith Pond, which depend on people’s interest and involvement for their protection. For the good of these places, “the more people who have the chance [to experience them], the better,” Stout says. And exposure is the first step. “It’s all about education.” In the SeaQuest program, kids “see animals under the microscope that they don’t believe are real.” He recalls receiving a letter from a young camper, who wrote that he never knew that so many things lived underwater.

The kids who go to Camp Fuller may not end up as scientists, he said, but they will be spokespeople. They will carry their stories of Point Judith Pond back to their classmates and parents. “They’ll say to their friends, ‘you should have been there,’” Stout says. He attests to the lasting impression left by campers’ experiences at Camp Fuller though his class, noting that he has been invited to the wedding ceremonies of several of his former students.

Stout remains a firm believer in the importance of allowing young people opportunities to discover nature, especially in the face of the current challenges faced by natural places. He emphasized that it was those people who had a personal relationship with these places are the ones who make a commitment to preserve them. “When I was younger, no one thought about conservation. These places took care of themselves. But things are changing.”

This talk was part of a continuing lecture series sponsored by Rhode Island Sea Grant and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) focusing on involving the public in discussions on land use and aquaculture. The next talk is titled Riparian Privilege: Legal Aspects to Living Along the Shoreline and will be held on March 30, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Cross Mills Public Library in Charlestown, RI.

For more information on Prentice Stout, visit http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/rhodeisland/features-multimedia/interactive-media-prentice-stout-1.xml.

By Keegan Glennon | Rhode Island Sea Grant Communications Intern

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