On Board for a summer of sea stewardship

On Board for a summer of sea stewardship

Schooner Camp excites kids to care for the environment through songs, games and adventures.



“Imagine a clean river as it flows through a healthy watershed. In this river lives Fred the Fish. Fred has lived here his whole life, but today he is starting a long journey downstream to the ocean. HOW IS FRED?”

The Schooner Camp counselor introduces the kids to Fred, a sponge cut into the shape of a fish. Then, one by one, the children enact Fred’s journey by reading a card they were given and following its instructions.

Fred’s travels include:

  • Fred swims into farm country. He passes a freshly plowed riverbank. It begins to rain and some soil erodes into the river. (DUMP SOIL INTO FRED’S WATER) HOW IS FRED?
  • Fred swims under a bridge. The winter trucks put salt on the road. The rain washes the salt into the river. (ADD SALT TO FRED’S WATER). HOW IS FRED?
  • Fred swims past the city park. Some picnickers didn't throw their trash into the garbage can. The wind is blowing it into the river. (ADD LITTER TO FRED’S WATER) HOW IS FRED?

This thought-provoking activity is part of the Schooner Summer Camp curriculum, designed to encourage kids to explore and steward the natural world. And it’s one of the few activities that takes place indoors. Camp participants, ages 4 – 14, spend most of their day donned in bathing suits, sunscreen and water shoes, discovering their local coastal ecosystem in ways they may never have before. 

“In many cases in New Haven we forget we live on the water, and so many New Haven residents have never set foot in Long Island Sound. Schooner summer camp opens the door to explore the wealth of environmental opportunities that exists here,” says Justin Elicker, executive director of the New Haven Land Trust that facilitates the Schooner program.

These opportunities include daily explorations of the coastline, delving into marine science and, for those ages 9 and above, sailing in the harbor. By engaging campers, hands and feet first, in New Haven’s sea and shore, Schooner hopes to excite young citizens to preserve and protect watershed land.

“I love everything about being at camp, just everything,” enthused one camp participant. “I love learning and doing activities, being by the water.” 

Schooner has set a course to offer this excitement to as many New Haven youth as possible, by providing scholarship support to at least half of its campers, and by expanding its staff and resources to double the spaces available each week. To this end, Schooner is inviting younger and older campers on board: introducing a new Sea Sprites program for 4-5 year-olds and creating a Leaders In Training program for teens 13 and 14 years old.

For more than four decades, the Schooner program has introduced New Haven youth to the wonders of the shore and sea, but in 2014, financial difficulties nearly capsized the camp. The merger with New Haven Land Trust put new wind in Schooner’s sails and the program has made much headway, empowered by new leadership, partnerships, and grants including $9,500 from the Quinnipiac River Fund. 

The Schooner grants are a part of the Fund’s broader support of the Land Trust, which, over the course of 20 years, has totaled more than $100,000 to help the Trust establish and maintain preserves in New Haven, as well as provide public education and activities.  

"We can't underscore just how much the Quinnipiac River Fund has helped activate our programs and nature preserves along the Quinnipiac River and Watershed,” says Elicker. “Thanks to the Fund, we've hosted more than 50 educational events, expanded participation in our Schooner program to school groups and kids, installed educational signs and made our preserves much more beautiful and accessible to the public."

The camp takes place at the Sound School and the Long Wharf Nature Preserve, where each day delivers new science-based learning through adventure, crafts, songs, and games. Shore program participants spend most of their hours exploring the habitats of the preserve, while youth in the Sailing Program head out to the harbor, learning how to sail and skipper a small sailboat, as well as boat handling maneuvers, knots and boat safety.

One-week sessions run from June 25 – August 17. Children can participate in up to two sessions. Full and partial scholarships are available for income-eligible families.

For more information on program dates, prices and schedules, or to enroll in camp or apply for scholarships, please visit: For questions, please email or call 203-562-6655


Photos by Ian Christmann