Springbrook campers learn survival skills

A forest’s castoffs are another person’s gold.


Elyse Kaner
Staff writer

A forest’s castoffs are another person’s gold.

Thomas Samit and Hannah Rehrauer pile sticks to make their fort. (Photo by Elyse Kaner)

At least, that’s the case at Springbrook Nature Center when young campers last week traipsed through the center’s thick foliage, past a ditch, onto higher ground and found building material for a temporary shelter.

Fifteen campers foraged for dead branches, sticks and leaves last week to build a fort as part of Springbrook’s morning, weekday-long camp Let’s Swing!

What exhilarated kid could resist the camp’s brochure description: “Hey there monkey, it’s time to play outside. Climb trees, play cooperative games, solve puzzles and find treats.”

And if you think six- and seven-year-olds, can’t compromise and come up with a solution to a problem – like surviving in the wilderness – think again.

The campers in groups of four decided where to build a fort, the shape of the fort and what materials to use. Some opted for a teepee structure, while others went the rectangular route. One group, after lugging branches and bracing them against a tree, tore their fort down and rebuilt it again. They quickly realized the first one was too small to shelter the campers.

Survival in the wilderness

The charge to build a fort from nature’s stuff was part of an outdoor survival segment of the three-hour, morning camp held June 21 – June 25.

But before heading out, kids seated in folding chairs at the interpretive center went on a make-believe bus ride with a wild and crazy driver, a naturalist who navigated a bumpy drive with, of all things, a canoe paddle. The bus, unfortunately, crashed leaving campers stranded and set a scenario for a challenging situation. Survival.

After the ride, campers gathered and chose the seven things they most needed to survive in the wilderness while waiting for help to arrive. They learned one of the most important necessities, should they find themselves in such a sticky situation, is a positive mental attitude.

Other needs? Air for breathing, shelter, water and sleep. Some of the kids were surprised to learn they could go for three weeks without food.

After a few brief instructions, the kids hiked about a quarter of a mile into the bowels of Springbrook. They came across slugs, spiders and snails. But their quest was to build a fort in one-half hour with whatever materials they could muster up.

And the kids went to work, lugging branches twice as large as themselves.

“Don’t just put the sticks in random places,” Simon Struyk tells fellow campers in his group setting up branches against a tree for their shelter.

“Make it so the wind doesn’t hit us or anything,” another camper yells.

Brandon Baker, interpretive naturalist and one of the camp counselors for this particular morning, helped kids select materials and rethink the sizes and shapes of their forts.

When he was growing up, he made forts from pillows and sheets, but never did he make an honest-to-goodness fort similar to the ones he was helping the kids build.

“How often do they get a chance to do something like that? Building a fort in the woods,” he said, motioning to the aspens and oaks surrounding him as he escorted the campers back to the interpretive center.

Try, and try again

The camp taught Simon that you can build “almost anything in the wilderness.”

The best part of building the fort for him was when he sneaked under the branches and stepped inside. “I got to measure how big it was going to be,” he said.

Simon and his brother John Struyk were among the campers who rebuilt their shelter.

“We couldn’t fit in at first, but the second fort was just right,” John said.

Camper Mia Blanchette was busy adding leaves to top off the fort’s roof. “I learned that you keep trying if you don’t get it right,” she said about redesigning the fort.

Throughout the week, the campers learned about different trees, what animals live in them and how to climb trees safely. That would be always having three points of contact with the tree, such as one arms and both legs. Another tip is knowing your comfort level and not exceeding it, said naturalist Laura Edlund, who doubled as the crazy bus driver.

“If you want to go two feet off the ground, don’t push it,” she said.

After a treat of fruit snacks and lemonade, the kids once again headed outdoors to make mud paintings.

They returned the next day and made the trek again into the depths of the nature center to put finishing touches on their forts.

New camps

Springbrook reinvents its camp each year with new, creative offerings. This year, kids can look forward to camps named Fossil Finders, Nature Wizards, where campers are accepted into Springwarts School of Nature Wizardry, and Eco-Pirates, where kids learn how to read maps, make flags and join a crew on their own ship. And let’s not forget the technology part. In Nature Reality Show camp, kids will narrate, film and edit a 15-minute movie on wildlife.

Springbrook Nature Center director Siah St. Clair takes little credit for the innovative camps offered every summer.

Instead, he credits his staff of young, creative people who come up with fresh ideas.

“As the needs of the public change, we keep trying new things,” he said.

If you are interested in registering for a Springbrook Nature Center summer camp, visit www.springbrooknaturecenter.org or call 763-572-3588. The five-day camps for pre-schoolers through age 12 run through Aug. 13.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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