Eight Bristol Bay middle schoolers did something particularly adventurous with their summer vacations – they attended the Cape Peirce marine science and culture camp on the southwest tip of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.
On a Monday afternoon in mid-July, eight middle schoolers – four from Dillingham and four from Good News Bay – took off in a couple DeHaviland Beavers. They landed in the harbor off the Cape Peirce beach in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.
Terry Fuller, refuge Education Specialist, led the way as we dragged our gear and food through the tall grass to the two cabins, surrounded by a bear fence. Chaperon Jon Dyasuk brought up the rear. After the kids unpacked, Terry explained what to expect over the next few days.
“We want you guys enjoying yourselves in the outdoors and attaching importance to the environment so that when you are adults and you are the ones voting and making decisions you’re making good solid decisions about it. Somebody who never has the chance to come out here is going to have a different perspective on this than you will.”
The next morning, the camp began in earnest; the group headed to the beach to see what they could find in the sand.
“This is why you need to follow directions. First of all, bear tracks, and I believe these are last night’s – they’re fresh,” Fuller said.
As we walked along the beach we didn’t see any walrus. But we did see a walrus carcass, and the pungent stench didn’t deter the kids from taking a closer look.
"Do you know what paraluqs are? Maggots,” Melvin Pavala explained.
Low tide found us clambering below Cape Peirce’s famous arch. Puffins propelled themselves through the air with their short wings as the kids peered into tide pools. Freedom Theurer, Kylie Clouse, and Jamal Romie ran to the shore.
“My favorite activity was going down to the beach during the bonfire, cause I got to jump in the water and trip in it too,” Theurer said.
“When we were jumping over the waves we saw a jellyfish and me and Jamal touched it. That was pretty cool,” Clouse said.
"It even had a thing to digest things," said Romie.
Fuller said these camps help kids bond with the environment.
“Part of my job is exposing people to this so that hopefully they’ll make decisions that benefit the natural resources rather than just tear them down. Stewardship is the word.”
An important piece of that is having fun. At the beach bonfire that evening, Kimberly Roberts, Melvin Pavala and Miszenna Evans practiced their new survival skills -- starting fires with flint and shooting bows and arrows.
“My favorite thing to do is archery,” Roberts said.
On the final full day, we hiked five miles along the cliffs overlooking the water. We saw a host of seabirds: black-footed kitty wakes, cormorants and murres.
Perched atop a cliff, we also saw an enormous bald eagle. Winding down the path on the way back to the cabins, suddenly, the kids spotted a fox.
“There’s a fox right there. And it’s on the ledge of a rock. And it’s just sleeping. And we have to be really quiet or we’ll wake it up and it will run away,” Romie said.
As the sun set and we started packing up, the kids reflected on what they would take with them.
"The sand dunes. I love the sand dunes," Angelina Olson said. "Despite the sand getting everywhere when you play in it. Because it’s squishy. That is one of my favorite reasons.”
“I liked the view and I liked how the grass and the nature made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside," Chenoa Chingliak said.
For Evans, the trip was about new friends.
“I’m going to tell my family what the best things I did here and tell them about the fun people I met, and the people I remember.”
The next morning, tired, happy, and covered in sand, we flew home.
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