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Middle schoolers explore wildlife and culture at camp on Cape Peirce


Earlier this month, seven area middle school students spent five days on Cape Peirce, a remote area within the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. While they adventured, they learned about wildlife biology, traditional uses of plants and art.

Middle schoolers from Dillingham, Togiak, and Goodnews Bay took float planes to Cape Peirce in mid-July for Togiak National Wildlife Refuge’s 24th annual Marine Science and Yupik Culture Camp. 

Audio Transcript:  Safe wildlife encounters are one of the primary goals of the Marine Science and Yupik Culture Camp. And encounter wildlife, they did. Their first night on the cape, the seven students encountered one memorable animal on hike.

“The night that we went to the beach for our tide pooling the kids were walking by a dead walrus. As they’re walking by, most of the kids have their hands over their noses or their shirts pulled up because it was very, very stinky,” said Terry Fuller, the education specialist with the refuge.

Credit USFWS
A motion sensitive game camera caught students walking by a dead walrus.

They also observed impressive creatures as well that were a little less pungent.

“Some of those tide pools are just filled with hairy hermit crabs. They’re about the size of a quarter. You can pick them up by the handfuls, and they’ll crawl around on your hands,” Fuller explained. “We see a lot of seabirds. One of the ones that seems to get the most attention is puffins. We see tufted puffins and horn puffins in fairly large numbers.”

For more than 10 years, Fuller has been guiding students on this trip. His goal is for youth, especially local youth, to spend time in Bristol Bay’s pristine wilderness.

Credit Shawna Pickinpaugh/ USFWS
Pagurus hirsutiusculus, commonly called the hairy hermit crab, are abundant in the tide pools on Cape Peirce.

“We’re seeing that kids are increasingly disconnected from the outdoors today. That’s true even in small villages. This camp gets kids out into that. We study the wildlife out there, which is unique. We also spend time on things like wilderness survival skills, such as how to build a shelter, how to make potable water through different means or how to make a fire,” said Fuller.

This is also a Yupik culture camp. John Mark from Quinhagak showed students traditional uses for area resources. Mark spent an afternoon teaching students which area plants are edible and how to prepare them.

Another highlight? For Susie Martin, a 12-year-old from Goodnews Bay, the best part was painting.

“We painted flowers and we painted the arch. We used plants and it turned out reddish-pink,” said Martin. The arch is a large, natural rock formation on the cape.

Artist Shawna Pickenpaugh is the artist in residence at the Togiak National Wildlife refuge this summer. While she is spending time in the area to create her own artwork, she visited the Cape Peirce with the campers to show them how to make pigment from natural materials.

For Fuller, the end of July is just a brief lull in the excitement. In August, the educational outreach with the refuge continues. He and two other chaperones are hitting the Ongivinuk River with nine high schoolers for a float trip.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.

Credit Shawna Pickinpaugh/ USFWS

Credit USFWS
Campers practiced wilderness survival skills, such as making shelters.