The first day of Wilderness Nature Camp was a bummer.
The elementary school-age campers woke up that Monday morning to torrential rains, which flooded some Lincoln streets, making it difficult to get to camp. At Wilderness Park, the campers packed into a single building, where they sang songs and made the acquaintance of a couple of turtle guests.
But a half hour after the last clap of thunder, the campers headed outdoors. And by the end of the day, they were happily covered in mud, said Sam Larson, day camp director.
Larson, a Lincoln survivalist who was part of the first TV season of "Alone" in 2015, is familiar with days going from horrendous to happily content.
Larson finished second in the show that pits 10 experienced survivalists against each other and against the elements.
This summer he is teaching children at the day camp how to enjoy the natural setting and how to work together. Hiking, education and exploring — exploring nature, exploring your creativity — are the focus of the camp experience, Larson said.
Larson still watches the History channel's "Alone," now in its fourth season, but he's not a part of the survivalist star culture, a former goal he found wanting.
As a young man, he thought the ideal job would be to work on a survival-related TV show, maybe as a presenter, he said.
But when he found out what it was really all about, he decided his passion was not working around cameras, producers and camera crews.
"My real passion was spending time in the outdoors, spending time in nature and learning about nature.
"A lot of people call it being a naturalist or guiding. I like to call it being a nature translator. I want people to experience nature in a more intimate way."
And it doesn't get much more intimate than building a mud slide and then sliding down it on your belly, as campers did that first wet day.
Wilderness Nature Camp focuses on interacting with nature. The city's Parks and Recreation Department has been offering this type of camp activity since the mid-'70s.
It is almost 100 percent outdoors, which is something Larson likes. Parents drive their children to camp over a gravel road. There is one building, used only when the weather is really bad.
"I feel like we have more resources than an inside camp. We are not restricted by walls or hallways. And we never run out of fun things to do," he said.
Wilderness Nature Camp is one of hundreds of day camp experiences available for children in the Lincoln area. And the 30 to 60 campers each week are among more than 700 children who participate weekly in city Parks and Rec-sponsored day programs.
Larson, who spent 55 days in the Canadian wilderness as part of the TV survivalist show, brings his skills — he can make a fire by rubbing two cottonwood sticks together — and his love of the outdoors to camp.
The campers learn you can eat nettles — cook the leaf for about 15 seconds in boiling water; and mulberries, wood sorrel and milkweed.
"His positive attitude is huge. In the dead of the summer, when it is humid and buggy, you gotta be a little tough," said Andrea Faas, Pioneers Park Nature Center coordinator. "He can help them with that mental toughness, building that self-confidence," she said.
Camp counselors, many who have spent summer weeks as junior counselors and campers at Wilderness Nature Camp, know it is a two-can-a-week bug spray adventure.
Counselor Jess Hansen, whose camp name is Gooseberry, remembers her own years as a camper when she came home, "wet, covered in mud and bug bites, and so happy."