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TU Teen Essay Contest | First Runner Up | Mason K. from Virginia

Each year, TU Camp and Academy graduates are invited to enter the TU Teen Essay Contest in which they share their camp experiences. This year we had four finalists, and Mason’s essay is the third to be posted in this series as the first runner up! Mason is from Virginia and attended the Tri Stat

e Conservation and Fishing Camp in Syria, VA. Please read on for Mason’s thoughtful essay and reflection of his time at camp.

Do you know a teen that’s ready to attend a TU Camp, visit the TU Camps Page to see if there’s one near you! Already been to a camp, you say?? Then that teen may be ready to attend the TU National Teen Summit, an annual conference for young leaders in TU. Watch for 2018 applications in February.

My Camp: Tri State Trout Camp

My TU Chapter: Northern Virginia #360

My favorite thing about being outside: I enjoy fishing the streams of Shenandoah National Park. Also, being outside and fishing allows me to retreat from the chaos of modern teen life and appreciate one of our greatest gifts: nature. With every fish caught, I become more aware of how lucky we are to have the outdoors and the extent to which we must safeguard this extremely vulnerable endowment.

TU Camp was…not long enough by Mason K.

“TU Camp was…not long enough.” Those were the first words I spoke to my parents as we drove away from the TU Tri-State Camp in Graves Mountain, Virginia this summer.

Soon after my brother and I were introduced to our local Northern Virginia TU Chapter by our neighbor, word of the TU Tri-State Conservation and Fishing Camp made its way to us. Three years later, both of us were finally old enough to attend together. By that time, we had already become friends with many of the camp staff which made it even harder to have waited as long as we did. Additionally, with the location in the heart of one of our favorite fishing areas, we became more anxious with each passing day. Then, on drop-off day, our dreams became reality.

As fly-fishers, we are sometimes stereotyped as secretive, clandestine people. We sometimes fear giving advice or suggestions because of the possibility that it might impede upon our own fishing. However, almost immediately, the TU Camp shattered this perception with the camp director stating that “The camp is not a competition about who can catch the biggest or most fish; it is an opportunity to lift each other up.” With that said, a strong sense of community began to develop, and making friends became simple as we were all there for a common purpose: to make each other better. When we began the fly-tying portion of our first day, I recall some campers helping their neighbors figure out how to start the thread on the hook shank while some were laughing their way through a Green Weenie. On all of our fishing outings the campers were watching each other’s casting and presentation and even making suggestions about fly selection. It seems that after we departed from each of our destinations, if one person did not catch a fish, the whole camp was not satisfied. The connectedness between all members of the camp and the willingness to make each other as successful as possible is what set this camp apart.

Two years ago, while attending the Regional TU Meeting in Roanoke, I was surprised to hear that one of the aspects that TU as a whole was beginning to lose was conservation itself. This shock carried over to my expectations about the camp as I wondered how much of the time, if any, would be spent on preserving our natural resources. On the first night, I remember the director’s response to the unavoidable “When are we going to start fishing?” question. He said, “We will be fishing every day except for today.” Conflicting feelings resulted from his answer: happiness from the fact that we will be fishing often and curiosity about where the conservation aspect will come. Thankfully, we began working on stream ecology the next day. The excitement that arose from working together as a team to find various macroinvertebrates was something I did not expect, and apparently neither did the staff because we ended up going overtime trying to catch an eel. However, the conservation aspect did not stop there as a fish dissection, an electrofishing expedition, and a speaker from the Forest Service were all lined up to educate us about the importance of taking care of our world. Similar to the stream ecology day, each of the other conservation activities was met with the utmost alacrity and enjoyment. The enthusiasm the campers displayed during all of the conservation exercises gave me confidence that there is a generation willing to stand up for one of our most important gifts.

Being able to attend the camp was a real pleasure and an excellent way to have kicked off our summer. Finding other teens who shared our passion for fly fishing and conservation had not been so easy until that week. Additionally, the community that developed during the camp was something I did not expect but came to be one of the aspects that set this experience apart. Moreover, the mindset with which the campers approached the unparalleled amount of conservation we did has given me hope for the future as I now know that there are people who are willing to work to preserve the precious gift of our planet. After I came home from camp, I wondered how the staff had fit all that we had done into as little time as we had. That is why I wish the TU Tri-State Camp could be longer.