Zoo News is Good News: Kids Urban Nature Overnights at the Zoo

By Oregon Zoo Staff

As a 10-year-old, Bricenda Avila was new to camping when she joined the Inukai Boys & Girls Club for one of the Oregon Zoo’s Urban Nature Overnights. Now 17, Avila is leading the trips herself.

“It’s the best thing ever,” said Avila. “Growing up, my family wasn’t the camping type, but I am. UNO introduced me to the outdoors.”

Since launching in 2000, UNO, presented by NW Natural, has provided camping trips for 6,400 kids. The program, designed to actively engage historically underrepresented Portland-area youth in outdoor recreation and conservation, is a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other community partners.

Jody Van Riper, coordinator of the UNO program, has a strong connection to nature, and says it’s special for her to share that with others. She especially enjoys working with teens like Avila who are gaining skills and experience to become leaders in the conservation field.

“This is specifically a program for youth of color and low-income youth,” Van Riper said. “And it’s part of the zoo’s goal to reach out to community members with our conservation messages while providing culturally responsive programs that are relevant to our participants. It’s fun to get kids outside and away from electronics to open their eyes to the natural world. Through this program, the zoo and Metro have been committed to equity and diversity for almost two decades.”

For Avila, who’s leading five overnights this summer, it’s all about the moment when her campers gather around the campfire at night, some of them for the first time ever.

“The campfire is one of the best moments of the overnight,” Avila said. “Everyone works together to make it happen, and everyone has fun.”

See video of the new baby colobus monkey at bit.ly/babycolobus.