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Lime Hollow Nature Center teaches survival skills based on Gary Paulsen novel

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Lime Hollow Buildings and Grounds Assistant Matt Fendya teaches winter shelter building to Moravia 6th-graders on Tuesday.

CORTLANDVILLE — Gabi Heim began digging in a snow pile with her hands to clear an opening Tuesday morning at Lime Hollow Nature Center.

“I prefer that (using her gloved hands) over a shovel,” said Heim, a sixth-grader at Moravia Middle School.

Heim wasn’t alone. She was joined by a dozen classmates who were working with Matt Fendya to build snow shelters, mimicking the life of a character in a book they were reading.

For at least six years, fifth- and sixth-graders have been making the trip to Lime Hollow, said Kristen Kneer, a sixth-grade teacher. This trip was sixth-graders only. The trip coincides with the students reading the book, “Brian’s Winter,” by Gary Paulsen. The book is another take on Paulsen’s book, “Hatchet.”

“Hatchet” finds main character Brian stranded in the wilderness and having to rely only on himself for survival. “Brian’s Winter” tells the story in which Brian is not rescued at the end of “Hatchet” and instead must face the winter alone.

After reading the book, sixth-graders are brought to Lime Hollow and taught winter survival skills, Kneer said. “It’s a nice follow-up,” she said. “It correlates well with what Brian faces.”

Throughout the day students would have the opportunity to take part in four activities:

l Building snow shelters.

l Hunting and tracking.

l Snowshoeing and first aid.

l Advanced fire building, using a bow drill.

Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow, said Moravia is one of few schools to bring students out in the wintertime. “They’re one of the hardiest school groups,” he said.

The conditions for the trip were also good, Reisweber said: 20 degrees and 3 inches of fresh snow.

As part of the day’s events, Fendya, an outdoor educator at Lime Hollow, led students to a clearing where they found six mounds of snow. By the end of the trip each mound would be a snow shelter called a quinzee.

To begin, students stuck 8- to 10-inch-long sticks in the mound to assure the inside would be thick enough to safely climb inside. Next, Fendya set the kids loose on creating an entrance and hollowing out the inside. “They’re all eager to get in,” Fendya said as the kids continued to hollow out the shelter. “Every kid loves digging in the snow.”

Heim was one of the eager kids. She likes to build snow forts with her parents during the winter. By building a snow shelter, Heim said she felt a connection with Brian from the book. Even though it was early in the day, Heim felt that if she was alone in the wilderness she could build a shelter to survive.

Abram Wasileski and Cole Cuddeback helped their classmates work on a fancier quinzee with a tepee-like infrastructure. They both said digging in the snow was their favorite part.

Wasileski also gained a better understanding of the book. “When his (Brian’s) shelter was wrecked he had to build a new one,” he said.

However, Brian used sticks and mud, not snow.

While Cuddeback worked on the tepee-style quinzee, he liked the simpler design better. The tepee style was OK, but it was a lot of work to build, he said. “Sticks are in the way.”

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