El Ranchito summer camp began in 2007 as a collaboration between Shield Ranch, El Buen Samaritano and Westcave Outdoor Learning Center. Together, we created El Ranchito because we believe it is important to provide urban kids with opportunities to discover the natural world – and themselves.
El Ranchito’s first summer consisted of two one-week sessions and 36 campers entering the 5th through the 7th grades. Over the next few years we expanded camp to include more grades, more sessions, and more campers. In 2009, inspired by our oldest campers from the previous year, we added Conservation Corps which provides high school youth with an opportunity to participate in conservation work while earning a modest stipend. Now El Ranchito consists of two camp programs: Nature Discovery Camp for rising 4th through 9th graders; and Conservation Corps for rising 10th through 12th graders. El Ranchito serves 90 children/youth each summer, more than half of whom are returning campers.
El Ranchito has enjoyed broad community support from volunteers who have assisted with camp planning, trail building and site preparation, camp set-up and take-down, and special camp programs. Our Medical Director is a volunteer physician who reviews each camper file for medical readiness and oversees the health program during camp.
El Ranchito received significant start-up funding from Texas Parks and Wildlife and several private foundations, along with numerous individual gifts and in-kind donations from local businesses.
In the summer of 2017, with the support of Texas Parks and Wildlife CO-OP grant, we launched El Ranchito’s traveling camp, the Gulf Coast Expedition (GCE): a service learning journey from Shield Ranch to the Gulf of Mexico. During 13 days participants ages 18-22 explore tributaries of Barton Creek and the Colorado River en route to the estuaries on the gulf. Service projects include water quality testing, oyster reef construction, coastal restoration, and water policy discussion.
We are deeply grateful to our funders and the many volunteers and supporters who have enabled us to realize our dream of a nature-immersion summer camp.