Creepy Crawlies at Camp

I’ve done plenty of celebrity interviews in my time. I have even attended the Emmy Awards, and more than one red carpet. But never have I seen a crowd so thrilled to see a celebrity than the day Kim’s Cold Blooded Creatures visited Deer Valley Summer Adventure Camp!

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Kim, a Park City local for about seven years, has numerous snakes, spiders, tortoises, turtles and lizards that she and her family keep as pets. She makes it clear that the real stars of the show are her pets. She spends many days a week traveling to schools, camps and birthday parties for an interactive educational presentation, through which she educates kids (and any adults in the room, for that matter) about each creatures habits, habitats and defense mechanisms.

She is so popular around Park City, that when she brought out a baby Bell Python, a child called out, “You got a new snake!” prompting Kim to ask when the child had seen her last. “In June? Yes, you’re right this snake is about a month old!”

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Her passion for such creatures started early. “I had an older brother who used to take me hunting for frogs and lizards when we were kids,” she said. “He passed away at 13 from leukemia so having these pets and learning about them, and now teaching about them, has been a way for me to stay connected to him and to honor him.”

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And her educational business is a family affair. “These are all our pets, and they live at home with us,” she said. “I do this so people aren’t scared of insects and snakes when they might come across them in nature.” Assisting her on this day were her adult son, Alex, and his girlfriend, Kennedy (who initially had a snake wrapped around her head, prompting a camper, age five, to call out, “You’re Medusa!!”). “None of my animals are dangerous or I wouldn’t let you hold them,” Kim explained. “After all, I let my own son hold them, so you know you’re safe.” She also gently, but firmly, reminded the campers how to keep the animals safe by touching them gently.

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The children sat as she brought out a variety of creatures, promising along the way, that there would be opportunities to hold them. “You don’t have to hold anything or touch anything,” she assured her audience. “None of my animals have ever bit or stung a person.”

Over the course of an hour, we learned that no one has ever died from a tarantula bite, that tarantulas will kick off hairs from their abdomen to irritate and scare off a predator, and that if you want to find scorpions, you can go out at night with an inexpensive blue light and the scorpions will glow under the light. We also learned that the Australian Prickly Stick insect, which are harmless (Alex was wearing one on his face at one point in the presentation), were used as doubles for poisonous scorpions in the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

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“It’s a very cool insect, and it hangs on really well,” Kim quipped.

We met a Madagascar hissing cockroach and a Peppered Roach, both of which serve as “nature’s recyclers,” eating dead plants, some animal carcasses and helping to create holes in the vegetation canopies in the jungle, so that sunlight can reach the lower plants.

We also met a Crested Gecko named Pop Tart, whose tail or lack thereof, proved cautionary (the pun is mine—apologies to Kim!) to the kids. “Someone wasn’t gentle enough with her at a birthday party, and her defense mechanism was to shed her tail,” Kim explained. “Dropping the tail distracts predators, but it doesn’t ever grow back.”

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As she introduced a bearded dragon and various breeds of non-venomous snakes, Kim took the opportunity to educate kids on what it means to take responsibility for a pet. “You shouldn’t go to a pet store until you and your parents have done some research on exactly how big the pet will grow, and what kind of care they need,” she said. “Some people think if it doesn’t work out, the pets can go to live at a zoo. But zoos don’t want our pets, and pets need a forever home. So you need to be responsible about adopting pets.”

After all of the introductions were made, kids lined up to meet the pets, some wearing snakes, others holding tortoises, lizards and yes, even the tarantula. And, I daresay, they were gentler with the stars of this show than most adults are with human celebrities.

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“This has been our most successful guest speaker, yet,” said Kurt Hammel, childrens programs assistant manager at Deer Valley’s Summer Adventure Camp. “I’ve never seen the kids so engaged.” (Word to the wise: I noticed Kurt snagging Kim’s card—so don’t be surprised if you bump into Kim and her Cold Blooded Creatures someday during the winter season, too!)

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Summer Fun, Family Style

It has taken me a little while to get into the swing of summer apparently, it’s taken Mother Nature a bit of time, too. We had a spring snowstorm on Tuesday June 17 but with the Community Concert series set to kick off the following night (yep, it had to be postponed) and lift-served hiking and mountain biking already in full swing, the storm felt like a summertime sucker punch. In our family, we’d already spent a day exploring the activities at YMCA Camp Roger, where Lance will spend a week this summer—his first sleep-away camp experience. I’m happy to report there were cute, cozy cabins each with its own fire pit, plus archery, basketball, mountain biking and horseback riding. What’s not to love? (If it were acceptable, I’d sign up!)

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In my house, summer means a new routine nearly every week—and sometimes every day. It makes me marvel when I get to the end of the day and haven’t messed up, taken people to the wrong locations or missed a start time. Yeah, it happens.

Certainly, we’ve already crammed a ton of summer fun into the two quick weeks since school let out. My boys have enjoyed several days of tennis camp at the Park City MARC. You know it’s a good camp when you sign them up for two days and they come out at the end of the second day and ask, politely, for a third. You can bet that they’ll be doing more of that camp. I’m guessing, too, that part of their love of tennis camp is that it takes place at the MARC, where there’s free access to a rock climbing wall—perfect for killing time before camp starts.

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Some weeks, their camp pursuits are more academic. Seth went back to school for a French Immersion Camp. He’s in a dual language immersion program at school and his teacher runs week-long camps so that the language doesn’t fall out of the kids’ heads over the summer. Of course, it culminated in a hike—this is Park City, after all. Lance, on the other hand, headed to Zaniac, an awesome learning center in Redstone, where he’s been taking math classes (which thankfully, he loves, and which seemed to boost his math grades at school…win, win!). The camp he chose was “Intro to Computer Programming,”and he couldn’t get enough of the half-day program, learning to write code in lots of fun ways. He even created a music video for “Radioactive,” by Imagine Dragons.

Most of the camps we’re enrolling in this summer are partial-day camps, in part because I figured out that while there are many awesome full-day options (including Deer Valley Summer Adventure Camp and options through Park City Recreation and Basin Recreation), I’ve realized that sending my kids to full-day camps often means someone else gets to hang with them while they are having fun and I get the cranky-exhausted kids afterwards. So, we compromise. There will be some full-day camps (they may yet decide to go to the UOP’s awesome FUNdamentals Sports Camp or Deer Valley’s Summer Adventure Camp, because, heck, it’s summer, and who wouldn’t want a full day of fun?) But mostly, we’ll do partial-day camps and then head to the pool.

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Cf course, we’re planning a bunch of RV trips too—Bear Lake in July, so we can get our fill of that area’s crystal-blue waters and famous raspberry milkshakes. I would love to hear what camps you’re sending your kids to in the comments below or Tweet me @BariNanCohen.