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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 18, 2018

Fairfield survivalists

Campers learn to build huts at Jefferson County Park
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Jul 12, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo John Miller, foreground, and Lane Stever build a debris hut Wednesday night during the “Forts & Fires Camp” at Jefferson County Park. Miller and Stever put two roofs on their hut, thinking that was the best way to keep it dry.

Going camping without a tent? Now that’s roughing it!

That’s exactly what a group of 15 third- and fourth-graders learned to do Wednesday night at Jefferson County Park. The kids took part in the first day of a two-day “Forts & Fires Camp.” On Day 1, they built a debris hut from sticks, leaves and pine needles they found on the forest floor. Tonight, they’ll hone their fire-building skills.

Jefferson County naturalist Therese Cummiskey led the youth into the woods until they came upon a grove of pine trees. There, the kids broke into groups of two or three to build “forts.” The idea was to build a lean-to shelter abutting a tree, and make it big enough for one person to sleep in. The groups gathered the largest logs they could find to lean against their tree, then started filling in holes with smaller sticks and finally closed the smallest gaps with handfuls of the plentiful pine needles.

The team of John Miller and Lane Stever put a unique design feature on their hut. They covered the roof of their structure in pine needles, and about a foot above that, built another roof with another layer of pine needles. The two said it was the best way they could think of to keep water out.

Cummiskey said she’s done survival-themed programs with fourth-graders before, but wanted to do a completely new camp this summer.

“I came up with ‘Forts & Fires,’ which seemed like a no-brainer, because kids want to build forts and they want to burn things,” she joked. “Kids love to be creative, and this is an opportunity to do so.”

A few adults were on-hand to supervise, but they leave the construction to the kids.

“It’s a good lesson in teamwork, because some work exceptionally well together, and some not so much,” Cummiskey said.

The kids had one hour to build their forts. When the time was up, one person sat inside it while water was poured over the top to see if it was water-proof.

“They’re never completely water-proof because you need more than an hour to make a good fort,” Cummiskey said. “Then once the kid is out of it, we’ll see how strong it is by leaning against it to see if it holds.”

Summer assistant Jean Dorothy helped supervise the kids, and it was all she could do to resist giving them advice. Dorothy made one of these forts years ago as a Girl Scout at Camp L-Kee-Ta near Danville. Her group hiked deep into the forest after going on a canoe trip. They had no hatches, and had to rely on the branches and leaves they found on the ground, just like the youngsters did Wednesday.

“We were so tired from hiking that by nightfall we were out cold,” she said. “We didn’t think about the bugs or the sounds.”

Luckily, it didn’t rain that night. It was so hot that some campers chose to sleep under no cover at all.

Dorothy said she tried not to give Wednesday’s campers too much advice because she wanted them to figure things out on their own, though she did warn them about putting heavy logs on the roof of their huts.

Dorothy remarked, “I told them to think about Lincoln Logs, but maybe this generation doesn’t know what Lincoln Logs are,” to which camper Emmalyn Sandbothe replied, “I know what Lincoln Logs are!”

Cummiskey said she got the idea to do a survival-themed program after attending a class on Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Survival.

“He did debris-building with a group of kids years ago, and I thought it was pretty cool,” she said.

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