The Oakland Zoo wants you to spend the night. The zoo already offers three separate overnight programs, and a just-announced $80,000 grant from Clorox provides the foundation for a fourth. Tied to the zoo's emerging California Trails expansion — which will add approximately twenty acres of exhibits and habitat for native California plant and animal species over the next two years — the new overnight program will be geared toward environmental education. According to a press release, Clorox's contribution allows the zoo to develop educational programming that's "designed to increase awareness and appreciation of the natural environment and conservation issues."
Of course, campers can "immerse" themselves in a "natural habitat environment" by camping just about anywhere in the East Bay's regional and state parks, but the zoo hopes to offer an enhanced experience to youth and adult campers alike. Particpants will sleep in tent cabins on the perimeter of the twenty-acre site and use the surrounding California Trails habitat as an open-air classroom. The zoo will develop custom curricula for families, youth organizations, community nonprofits, business groups, and local students. Particular focus will be given to fourth- and fifth-grade students in Oakland's public schools, with an eye toward sparking interest in the outdoors and promoting better understanding of conservation and environmental stewardship, according to the release.
Emma Lee Twitchell, the Oakland Zoo's director of development, said that funding from Oakland's Measure G, passed by voters in 2008, will help initiate construction of the California Trails project, including the new campground. The funds from Clorox, which has been a longtime educational partner of the zoo, are earmarked for the development of the new overnight education programs. They could be followed by additional grants, as the $80,000 is only a one-year commitment, and Twitchell said it'll be at least two years before California Trails is complete.
“They plan to be very generous to the extent that they can with this project," Twitchell said. "They’re especially excited about helping us to do this sort of a program.”
The Oakland Zoo's existing camping-based overnight education programs include one for Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, one for families, and one for large groups of various types, in which participants sleep indoors in an auditorium and need only bring a sleeping bag.