BENNINGTON -- Local kids have been facing down 2,400-foot zip lines, car crashes, fire truck ladders, and first aid training this week, and they have a day at the shooting range and white water rafting trip left to go before it's done.
Their adventures are part of an annual summer camp run by the Bennington Police Department with the help of Bennington County Sheriff's Department, Bennington Rescue Squad, and Bennington Fire Department. New Experience Camp began about 10 years ago as a Vermont National Guard program, said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, but funding for the program was cut. Not wanting the program to go away, the police department took it over.
"We try to think about things kids ages 11 to 15 really would like to try, but maybe have some fears, they're afraid or nervous about certain situations or events, and we come up with ideas to help them get over that," Doucette said.
Lauren Harrison, 14, of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., said she has been coming to the camp for the past five years. Monday began with a hike near Bennington, but Tuesday kicked things up a notch or two with the zip lines at Berkshire East Canopy Tours in Charlemont, Mass.
The zip line series starts small, she said, but as one zips and hikes to the next line, things get more intense.
"The first one I was (scared), but then I got used to it," she said. The final zip line was about 300 feet in the air and 2,400 feet long.
Ben Doucette, 15, of Shaftsbury, said some of the camp activities are the same each year, but something new is usually added. This year the zip line is new, as is the ladder truck activity.
Campers had the chance to go out on the Bennington Fire Department's ladder truck and spray water from it at a target. Doucette, a Junior Firefighter with the BFD who also attended a week-long fire fighting academy this summer at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, said he wants to be a firefighter when he gets older.
Cali Conety, 14, Hoosick Falls, N.Y., said her mother suggested the camp to her two years ago
"I've always been kind of a tom-girl, I'm not really girly, I'm not really a boy, so when she mentioned white water rafting and going to the range I'm like, ‘yeah!' that sounded really fun to me," Conety said. "My favorite thing that we did last year is the white water rafting. That's always fun."
The camp teaches many practical skills, namely CPR and first aid. Conety said she found the latter particularly interesting. "I go hunting, and I figured it's good to learn that stuff just in case. If you broke your arm, you could learn to make a splint out of stuff you had on you. It's really cool," she said.
Doucette said the camp, which can handle about 30 children, costs $7,000 to put on. The Eagle's Club, the Elks Club, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other service organizations donate to it, and numerous people from the emergency agencies involved and other civilians donate time to staff it.
Even with the donations, the cost to attend is $200 per child. That covers the activity fees and their food, plus they all get high quality backpacks.
Doucette said the camp exposes children to different experiences and gives them opportunities to grow in personal ways. The zip lines were one example.
"There were several kids that really have a fear of heights, they have a fear of speed, and they had an opportunity to overcome those fears," he said. "I was very proud of these kids."
Wednesday's activities were centered around public safety. Kids got a tour of the Bennington Rescue Squad, plus they got to watch a mock high speed chase which ended with a crash, a fire -- simulated with a road flare -- and a passenger extraction. The cars that were crashed in the mock chase were donated by LeBlanc's Auto Recycling.
Doucette said the kids also got to participate in traffic stop drills where they fired "Simunition," bullets made from chalk and detergent. Today they will go the Hale Mountain Fish and Game Club's shooting range for firearms safety instruction.
"We really try to give them real-life experiences," said Doucette, adding that even the first-aid classes were all hands-on and not just lectures.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.