The Making of a Childhood Memory

From developing an online curriculum to giving talks and tours for visitors, the educational work that occurs at national parks is expansive. One of my favorite aspects of park education here at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is outreach with the local school and recreational programs. The Skagway Rec Center has a summer program for young children, and I got to help with one of their afternoon outings at the park.

Around noon, I drove out to Dyea (about nine miles away from Skagway) with Kristen and Leandrea, my co-interns. Dyea is a former boomtown from the gold rush but is now a ghost town with only one restaurant, two campsites, and lots of bears and bald eagles. It’s a stark contrast to Skagway with its unpaved roads and braided channels that wind through the tidal flats. Here, we met up with Ian, a trail ranger by summer and a karate teacher at the rec center by winter. Later I would witness the children refer to him as “Sensei Ian,” a testament to both their respect for him and the relationship they already have.

With the students, we walked out along a flat trail for about half a mile, encouraging them to use the buddy system and swat mosquitoes off their faces. Jared, one of the program leaders, joked around with one kid about the porridge he brought for lunch, claiming that a bear was going to smell his tasty meal and want to come and eat it. 

At a trail intersection, the group sat down to eat lunch while Ranger/Sensei Ian demonstrated how to pack a hiking backpack. He dumped out his bag and showed some of the essentials for multi-day backpacking trips: an emergency blanket, a first aid kit, food and water, water filtration, a whistle, and more. To demonstrate what to do if someone becomes injured on the trail, he called up one student to put a splint on his arm. It was quite funny to see – the kid was holding a worm he found on the ground with his left hand and getting splinted with the other. Ian suggested that he put his worm down for just a moment, but he declined. 

As the students wrapped up their lunches, Ian continued to talk about trail etiquette, including picking up all your trash after you eat lunch. Kristen and I brought cards to pass out that had reminders about “leave no trace” written on them. She asked, “How many of you know how to read?” and about half of the hands went up. Regardless, the information is good to have handy, for both the children and the parents they are hiking with.

The last activity of the field trip was a lesson on bear safety. Ian talked about what to do when you see a bear: stay calm, look big, make lots of noise, and step away slowly. In small groups, one student got to act like a bear while the rest of the students played hikers, reacting to a bear. As the children raised their arms while calmly repeating “Hey bear, hey bear,” a few of them got really into the character of “bear,” growling menacingly and crawling over the floor.

This field trip reminded me just how much planning, energy, and tenacity it takes to develop and execute educational programs for young children. Even with three adult leaders and three helpers, each of us needed our full attention to keep the group together and focused. 

Today, I reminisce on the excitement of childhood field trips to the national park. I am sure that these students will continue to treasure their experiences in the outdoors as they grow older. 

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