Environmental Education

Volunteer as a Summer Camp Sidekick!

Polk County Conservation provides youth summer camps that are designed to encourage hands-on learning through outdoor explorations, activities, games, crafts, and more. Camps are led by naturalists with the assistance of volunteers, our Summer Camp Sidekicks. This opportunity provides a volunteer with a wonderful way to spend time playing, exploring, learning, and teaching while enjoying the camp experience. The inspiring part of this volunteer opportunity is seeing firsthand the difference made in the communities and youth served by Polk County Conservation.

Whether you are a high school student seeking to fulfill Silver Cord hours, a college student seeking a graduation requirement, a teacher looking to give back during summer break, or a retiree seeking to rediscover the joys of summer camp - all are welcome to apply to be a Summer Camp Sidekick!

Volunteer Requirements

This program is designed for volunteers ages 14 and up. Volunteers will assist naturalists leading camps in a variety of tasks such as helping with activities, games, or crafts in an outdoor setting. We may be hiking, getting dirty at the pond, or catching insects in the prairie. Volunteers need to be comfortable being outside in all weather conditions.

*Experience is not required and all training will be provided by Polk County Conservation camp staff. 

Interested? All prospective volunteers are expected to:

  • Fill out an application to volunteer
  • Interview with a Naturalist
  • Complete a background check
  • Attend a program training & orientation

Once an application has been received, staff will reach out with the next steps to become a Sidekick. 

2024 Camp Information

Lend your knowledge, enthusiasm, and a helping hand at our summer camp lineup! 

Ages 6-7


Noisy Nature

Session 1: June 6-7 | 9 - 11:30AM

Session 2: July 11-12 | 9 - 11:30AM

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of us exploring nature and its many sounds! Join us as we listen and create our own sounds using materials we find in nature.


Nature Explorers

June 10-14 | 9 - 11:30AM

Five days of explorations in nature…what could be better than that!?! Come and spend a week at Jester Park hiking, playing games, working on projects, and getting to be part of the nature that is all around us. From the animals to the plants, to the soils and the waters, this week will definitely be the best of the summer.


Wild Kratts

June 25-27 | 9 - 11:30AM

June 25-27 | 1-3:30PM

Learn how different animals have adapted to survive in Iowa’s environment, catch prey or elude predators. Then we’ll use our creature power discs to take on those powers ourselves!

Ages 8-9


Nature Discovery

Session 1: June 17-18 | 9AM - 3:30PM

Session 2: July 17-18 | 9AM - 3:30PM

Discover the wonders of nature and unlock some of nature’s mysteries. How does a snake catch it’s food? Can a lizard really regrow its tail? Whose footprints were left in the mud? Bring your nature detective skills for two days of discovery.


Buggin' Out

June 20-21 | 9AM - 3:30PM

Discover the thrilling world of insects! Grab a net and join us as we explore from the prairie to the pond; we’ll be searching high and low for what kinds of insects live in the park. Through games, crafts, and insect hunts we’ll find out why these critters matter and the role they play in nature.


Dinosaur Discovery

July 1-3 | 9AM - 3:30PM

Mastodons, mammoths, and prehistoric sharks…oh my! For three days learn about the creatures that roamed the water, land, and skies of Iowa millions of years ago. Come and dig for fossils, hike the trails that once were home to giant sloths, and swoop into a variety of games, crafts, and activities that will bring these ancient creatures to life.


Ages 10-11


Junior Naturalist

Session 1: June 10-12 | 9 - 3:30PM

Session 2: July 15-17 | 9 - 3:30PM

This one is for those who love the outdoors! Campers will spend go fishing, canoeing, hiking, geocaching, building campfires and more while exploring the outdoors. 


Botany Camp

July 23-24 | 9AM - 3:30PM

It's time to geek out about plants! We’ll take a hike to uncover the amazing diversity of plants and trees in the park, discover what flowers look like under a microscope, and even try water color painting with plant paint.


Oceans Exploration

July 10-12 | 9AM - 3:30PM

Did you know that Iowa was once covered by an ocean? From whales to reefs, to trilobites – these three days we will explore oceans both in today’s world and from long ago. Get ready for some fun as we dive into learning about the plants and animals that call these salty waters home as well as investigating how weather, climate, and human activities are affected by ocean patterns and change.

Summer Camp Sidekick FAQ

How old do I need to be to apply for Summer Sidekicks?

Summer Sidekicks is a volunteer program for ages 14 and up. You must be 14 years old by June 1st in order to apply.

What will I do as a Summer Sidekicks volunteer?

You will assist the naturalists leading the camp in a variety of ways. You may be helping naturalists gather and set up program materials, participating in activities right along side the children, cleaning up supplies, and helping prep the next day.

When do I volunteer?

The majority of our summer camps are offered in the months of June and July from 9am-3:30pm at Jester Park.

Do I have to volunteer a minimum number of hours?

Yes, we expect you to volunteer for the entire length of a camp. We offer a variety of camps that are two to five days long, full day or half day. Pick a camp that works within your schedule.

Do Summer Sidekick hours count towards Silver Cord?

Yes, it is your responsibility to provide the necessary paperwork and keep track of your hours.

How does the application process work?

Deadline for applications to be received is May 1st. You will be contacted to set up a brief interview via Zoom or phone. Volunteer training will take place on June 3 at the Jester Park Nature Center.

Additional questions?

Please email Heidi Anderson at or 515-323-5360.