‘Get them outside’

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Camp focuses on building up children’s winter survival skills

At Wednesday’s winter camp, three Albert Lea boys were made aware that their survival kits will need one more item in them than they may have thought: knowledge.

This is the second year the Albert Lea winter break camp has been offered by Derek Barkeim, founder of survival-focused outdoor programming business Seekers Wild, based out of Winona and La Crosse. Barkeim and Seekers Wild have been offering a summer camp for four years.

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“It’s really something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Barkeim said of the Seekers Wild winter break camp. “Any break in the kids’ schedule is a good opportunity to get them outside.”

At the winter break camp, Barkeim said participants have a chance to try their hand at fire-building, building snow shelters, ice fishing and tracking.

“Fresh snow is a really good opportunity for beginning and novice trackers to kind of open your eyes to the world of what it would be like to be a master tracker,” Barkeim said.

As of right now, the camp accepts up to 12 participants with Barkeim running the show solo. Some of that has to do with transportation capacity. He said he hopes to expand in the future.

On Wednesday, the participants spent a portion of the morning right away learning different techniques for fire-starting. Barkeim said this activity is one of the bigger draws of the camp.

“It’s an easy sell for the kids, but it’s also a really good skill to have just in any sort of survival situation,” Barkeim said.

Each moment was a teaching moment. In the first hour, the three participants learned how to tell where soft wood could be found for fire-starting: near the water. They learned how to shape a trough for the ember to travel out of  — like a pizza slice. They learned the three questions to ask themselves when eating something in the wilderness: Is it safe? Is it legal? Is it ethical?

Friends Judd Moller and Tanner Conn both attended the camp on Wednesday. Moller said learning about fires was one of the things he was looking forward to, and something he and Conn were interested in.

“We go to my house sometimes in the winter and start fires,” Moller said.

He said he was also excited to ice fish. Participating in the camp was a Christmas gift from his family.

Barkeim said experience levels with the outdoors and with the camp’s activities can vary.

“If you get a full group of 12, 10 to 12 kids, you get a pretty wide variety,” he said.

One of the biggest experiences he said the winter camp gives participants is a full day in the elements.

“Even if you’re an outdoor winter enthusiast, maybe you go outside, build a fort and come back in, or go outside, play in the snow and come back, but it’s kind of a rare experience for someone to be out there all day,” Barkeim said.

Sounds are different with the snow, and visibility increases as the leaves drop.

He uses travel strategically during the camp, moving locations using a 15-passenger van and giving the participants a brief respite from the chill.

When the morning was just getting started, before their trek out to Myre-Big Island State Park for shelter building and ice fishing, Conn stood by the fire he and Moller helped start. Conn said he wanted a chance to learn about building shelters and staying warm. He said he enjoys being outside in nature.

“There’s a lot of life, and it makes me happy,” Conn said.

The next winter break camp in Albert Lea is Wednesday.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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