Grace is “talking backwards.” “Yes” means “no.” “Good” means “bad.”
“This smells bad,” she said, holding up a crushed leaf of sassafras in her hand.
Smells pretty good.
“We’re talking backwards, remember?” she said with a touch of disdain.
So it smells good, right? Sorry, hard to keep up.
The not-fun moment (talking backwards, remember?) is one of the highlights during a nature walk in a summer camp for WaterWays, a local nonprofit focusing on water protection and quality across the Southeast.
At McCoy Farms and Gardens on Signal Mountain, 14 kids ages 6 to 11 spend a week in the 2022 Kids 4 Clean Water camp, learning the ins and outs of water protection and quality and understanding that nature is cool and should be respected.
“It’s really an environmental stewardship camp. It’s to teach kids about the watershed and give them ways that they can go about protecting it. It’s a lot of education and awareness,” said camp counselor Kristen Woodall, who graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2021 with a degree in sport, outdoor recreation and tourism management.
The parent of WaterWays, The Caribbean Student Environmental Alliance, was founded in 2004 by Mary Beth Sutton, who graduated from UTC in 1983 with a degree in environmental science. The alliance morphed into WaterWays in 2019.
Along with Woodall, UTC student Serretta Malaikham is a counselor at the Kids 4 Clean Water camp at McCoy Farms.
“This summer, I really wanted to do something that allowed me to be outside, and that was doing these summer camp programs with kids. I learn a lot from them. I learn a lot of patience. I learn a lot of funny things,” said Malaikham, who plans to graduate at the end of the summer semester with a degree in communication.
Another UTC student, Casey Kennedy, is a counselor in the Kids 4 Clean Water summer camp at Audubon Acres in eastern Hamilton County.
A couple of times during the weeklong camp, Kennedy took her 13 kids, ages 5 to 7, to South Chickamauga Creek, which bisects the 130-acre nature preserve. Once there, the campers—each wearing a swim vest—searched the water, coming up with crawfish, minnows and water sliders. One day, camper Jackson found a special treat.
“I found a super-small clam!” he yelled. “I see the yucky stuff inside.”
Actually, the “clam” is a freshwater mussel, but there’s no need to muddy the waters by correcting him.
For Kennedy, a senior who plans to graduate at the end of the summer semester with a degree in sport, outdoor recreation and tourism management, the “critter catch” has been the most fun part of being a counselor.
“I didn’t know a lot about the different animals in our water,” she said. “So it’s been really fun to me to show the kids what all lives in the water, why it’s important and stuff like that.”
Sometimes, though, it’s just fun to wade in the creek with the campers, watching them splash around, holler hither and yon, and use rocks to build a dam across the creek.
During the construction work, Jackson waded toward the dam, his hands dripping and yelling what seemed to be one of his favorite words.
“Yucky! Yucky mucky clay delivery!”