The Haines Borough Public Library and the Haines Sheldon Museum are teaming up to offer a week of survival skills classes for kids.
Jolanta Ryan is the Education and Cultural Coordinator for the library. She says the idea is an extension of the Fun Science program she runs. The program gets kids outdoors while they learn practical outdoor skills, like building a snow shelter.
“If you’re out in the wilderness and you don’t have a shelter and you want to spend the night,” Ryan said. “You can build a snow cave and it keeps you warmer so you can survive the night.”
Shelters like this one keep snow out and heat in. This week the focus is outdoor winter survival skills: not just shelter building, but knot tying, basic navigation, and fire starting. The mood out in the snow is lighthearted, but the skills these six- to almost nine-year-olds learn today are potentially life-saving.
“I just came here ’cause I need to practice making snow forts,” said second grader Sophia Hedden. “My dad thinks its important cause he works on the river. If something happened to him, you could build a snow fort and spend the night in there… Unless it’s sunny, then it’s just gonna melt.”
A snow fort is more than a hole in the snow. The students know to keep the walls 18 inches thick for insulation and structural integrity. There are other tricks, too.
“Try making a big pile and then making a hole,” Hedden said. “It may take longer, but it makes a better and more stable snow fort.”
It’s possible to get stuck or lost outdoors even in known terrain. More people go missing in Alaska each year than in any other state. Haines Volunteer Fire Department Chief Al Giddings says risk comes with the territory.
“For most of it it’s self explanatory, just given the location and where we are and the life that we live here,” Giddings said.
According to Giddings, Haines volunteer fire department deployed searches about nine times this year. The department even has a local search and rescue group under development to respond to increased demand. Knowing basic survival skills can make all the difference while waiting for help to arrive.
“Especially for our young people, just geographically for where we live and also the activities a lot of kids are involved in,” Giddings said. “Lot of outdoor sports in the wintertime.”
This is the first year the library and museum have partnered to offer a winter break survival skills course. It’s Elsie Fullerton’s first month as the education coordinator for the Sheldon Museum. She says the partnership is a natural fit.
“We’re both trying to cater to Haines locals and to provide a service to the community. So especially in this time when parents are working and kids are out of school, it seemed like a natural thing to work together and support each other on,” Fullerton sid.
This week, Survival Skills will transition to Detective Skills. The group will learn sleuthing tactics and solve a mystery with some help from the Haines Police Department.