By Naomi Klouda
Packing for survival in the wilderness involves themes more than a laundry list: What to bring to keep you warm? What to bring to scare off bears? What to bring for nourishment?
That’s part of the discussion with teens when Homer Wilderness Leaders’ director, Libby Veasey, calls on schools this month. HoWL wants to meet more students in an outreach at schools from Seward to Nanwalek, spreading Veasey’s infectious love for getting kids outdoors to have fun.
“We have schools booked in Homer, Seward and Soldotna so far and we have room to add more to the list,” Veasey said. “We want to get more kids from the rest of the peninsula to create a more cohesive community.”
HoWL leads summer camp in several sessions during the summer across Kachemak Bay on trails and coves. One camp focused on edible wild plants, teaching kids how to identify the food around them. Other camps offer lessons in climbing, or they clean up trails littered by hikers to help teach good earth stewardship. Under Veasey’s tutelage, kids have gone on sea kayaking journeys where they fished and gathered seaweed, muscles and clams for lessons on the “edible” ocean. They’ve done glacier mountaineering and backpacking expeditions that focused on survival with minimal equipment. Last year, they completed 30 trips – 13 were multi-day expeditions and 17 were day trips.
“We spent a total of 70 days in the wilderness. Each year is a rising trend, because there is so much to do. We want to spend as much time outside as possible,” she said.
Veasey was born and raised in Homer. She took a creative writing degree from Colorado College and while there joined the Outdoor Recreation Club where she was trained in leading trips and soon ran the organization in her senior year. This gave her the experience for returning to Homer and founding HoWL. She’s also an experienced mountain-climber, with Denali to her credit and an attempt on Mount Iliamna. And, she is a Wilderness First Responder in emergency situations.
“I came back to Homer and saw there was a niche to fill and students weren’t getting the kind of education I got when I was a kid here. I wanted them to be able to play across the Bay all the time,” Veasey said. “I love to see how it’s progressed. It’s become even better than I thought it would, and that’s great.”
Increasingly, through fundraising successes, Veasey has been able to grant scholarships to help kids who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to attend an expedition. Now Veasey, whose program has captured national attention for its dedication to training a new generation, wants to offer its programs more broadly.
“This is good for everyone in Alaska not just for the kids from Homer – when you’re mixed in with different kids than you are during the school year, you make new friends and have new experiences. It’s their back yard, too,” she reasons.
At the school visits and assemblies, Veasey will talk about the 10 or so essentials for survival when packing for the wilderness.
“We will talk about putting together survival kits. These are the essential things you want to have with you at all times, so you can survive a night in the wilderness. These are things you can find in your house and we’ll show how you can improvise. How to find food and water and be warm and get found,” she said.
Teaching the information thematically gets into a discussion of providing shelter, having a way to send out a signal, starting a fire and tools for cutting.
“They will need something to purify water, something to help them get fed, like a fishing lure or tinfoil, or a candy bar. Fire, for example, keeps you warm. It purifies water. It keeps bears away.”
Teens tend to like to learn about bear protection. For this, Veasey does a bear-flare demonstration – a new technique used by guides and others traveling through bear territory. It’s a hand-held marine flare.
“It can scare off a bear, I can guarantee, without hurting the bear or anyone else, or without the bear coming close to you. It’s more effective than a gun because you don’t have to shoot anything or wound a bear. It is better than bear mace because that only has a 10-foot range,” she said.
Veasey also plans, in some of her school presentations, to give a slideshow presentation and dramatic reading of her story about her 2006 Denali climb.
Veasey has been able to expand her programs through some new national help and recognition. North Face Explore Fund awarded HoWL a grant to purchase tents for winter camping trips and glacier expeditions. These are heavy-duty tents that can provide warmth in cold weather camping. North Face, one of the biggest outdoor clothing companies in the nation, set up the foundation called the Explore Fund, an organization that helps nonprofits and other groups get kids outside and exploring. The trend for young people to be sedentary and stay indoors is due to a variety of factors, including ‘stranger danger’ and video games. Recognizing this, such foundations help make it possible to lure them back outside for the health, fun and knowledge it provides them.
“The scholarships will become more widely available this summer because we’ve raised more money to support the scholarships,” she said.
For a program that only began in 2009, and started in Homer as her creation, Veasey has come a long way – and brought hundreds of kids with her. This summer will be their fifth season in the wilderness.
For more information, or to contact Veasey for school visits, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information can be found at www.howlalaska.org.
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