October 18, 2021 Karen Lewis

Another Successful Summer of FVCS Adventure Camps

Four Valleys Community School’s summer Adventure Camps have become a staple within the communities of Girdwood, Portage, Indian, and Bird to provide youth with continued education outside of the school year. This summer, FVCS, with the help of a KMTA grant, successfully ran eight weeks of programs focusing around the historical and natural significance of our area through activities such as, foraging, gold panning, trail exploration, and wilderness survival skills. These programs use place-based learning to instill a greater appreciation for the KMTA corridor and build lasting relationships within our communities.   The program consisted of seven different Adventure Camps covering topics from “Green Planet”; where they learned about conservation and focused projects around the “three Rs” (reduce, reuse, recycle), to the final camp “Tides & Ecology”; where they dove head first into water quality and the interconnectedness between vegetation and the tides of Turnagain Arm. It was a personal goal of the coordinator to incorporate a theme of conservation and preservation into every camp due with the philosophy of place-based education and building a connection to their specific area that helps ensure its ability to thrive for future generations to enjoy.

Every Adventure Camp meets outside in the beautiful Girdwood valley. Just being in Southcentral Alaska seems like enough to instill a lifelong stewardship for this area, but the camp attendees do so much more than gaze at the mountains. Their “Nature’s Market” camp, brought local youth into the forests and meadows in search of the plants and fungus that Alaska’s native people have survived on for decades. They learned about the usefulness of devil’s club and stinging nettles if handled with caution, and discussed the importance of not taking more than is needed. Subsistence not only adheres to human survival, but also to our influence on all living creatures that share our ecosystem. 

On their rafting trip with Chugach Adventures, the kids were immersed in our area’s wild beauty. First, by biking the Trail of Blue Ice out to Portage Lake, then by floating down Portage Creek. They were able to travel over the various salmon runs on their way towards the lake and name the glaciers that hover over the valley. On their float they spotted mergansers trying to outrun their rafts and witnessed the dance of a shore bird attempting to coax its dinner from the sandy shore. Alaska has so much more to it than just bears and moose, if you take the time to sit quietly and observe nature.

The bike ride from Girdwood to Bird Point is always filled with learning opportunities. The group takes plenty of breaks to talk about the various ecosystems they are travelling through along the way. Their first stop was right along the Alaska railroad, where the kids can witness the snags left from the rising salt water caused by the ’64 earthquake and a giant eagle nest at the base of the hillside. Along the path are several interpretive signs that educate us on geological formations, wildlife, and historic construction of the Seward highway. The trip this year included a bull moose that refused to leave the path, so the small troop of kids and chaperones took some time to enjoy lunch with a view of the Arm and pick wild raspberries and strawberries. Living in a wild environment means unexpected obstacles and always being ready to adapt our plans in order to keep moving forward.

The instructors continue to be amazed by the resilience shown by the kids who participate in the programs. All of the Adventure Camps take place outside, rain or shine, and a lot of the time they get rain. The campers still show up ready to learn and explore, even if it means having soggy feet for the duration of the day. Their positive attitudes have such a powerful effect on how the day goes and their flexibility in undesired circumstances is always appreciated.

These are just a few examples of how FVCS programs increase awareness and appreciation of the KMTA National Heritage Area in our local youth. Every week is spent exploring and learning about the fascinating and ever changing secrets this landscape has to offer. It never gets old seeing eyes light up and hearing gasps of excitement when the children of our community discover something new all on their own, in the place they call home. 

Over the summer, the program had over 150 kids participate in the various Adventure Camps. Some faces the instructors recognized from previous programs and others were brand new to the community. These programs offer a great opportunity to become more involved with your neighbors and build lasting friendships.  The funds provided by KMTA ensure that year after year FVCS is able to bring new curriculum into the programs and keep learning fun and exciting. Many of the local youth attend these camps every summer, so having new ways to present information and maintain interest in the various topics is crucial for their program’s success. 

While the success of the FVCS program isn’t best measured in numbers, their turnout of over 150 participants definitely portrays its popularity. The goal was to instill a life-long admiration for the beauty and diversity of our Turnagain Arm communities and support the preservation of our planet. They provided learning activities combined with healthy exploration of our local outdoors to create environmental stewards. Their success is measured by the excitement portrayed by the participants during camp as they raise their hands eagerly to answer questions about newly learned topics, as well as, at the end of each camp when they rush to their parents to tell them about the day’s activities and show them their take-home creations. In addition to the educational benefits of each camp, participants were able to explore parts of Girdwood they had never seen before. They trekked through meadows, biked down the old Iditarod trail, and traveled up Glacier Creek to learn more about the Girdwood valley. Another amazing part of living in this community is running into campers outside of the programs and having them share new facts about a camp topic from the weeks prior. Seeing their on-going engagement in the camps after they’ve ended is truly rewarding.