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KANUTI: New friendships and fond memories are formed at Henshaw Creek Science Camp
Alaska Region, October 6, 2012
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A blue darner gets
A blue darner gets "up close and personal" with Henshaw Creek Science Camp student, Oscar Penn, who doesn't seem to mind being perched on at all. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Students at the Henshaw Creek Science Camp get hands-on experience locating and identifying the anatomical parts of a real salmon specimen.
Students at the Henshaw Creek Science Camp get hands-on experience locating and identifying the anatomical parts of a real salmon specimen. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Dragonfly expert and science camp instructor John Hudson documents aquatic insects in his journal as teams of students compete to capture and identify the most different species.
Dragonfly expert and science camp instructor John Hudson documents aquatic insects in his journal as teams of students compete to capture and identify the most different species. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Allakaket elders Kenneth and Elsie Bergman attend the Henshaw Creek Science Camp primarily to share and pass on their traditional knowledge about subsistence resources, but they participate in all of the camp activities, taking advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the natural resources they care for and rely on.
Allakaket elders Kenneth and Elsie Bergman attend the Henshaw Creek Science Camp primarily to share and pass on their traditional knowledge about subsistence resources, but they participate in all of the camp activities, taking advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the natural resources they care for and rely on. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Henshaw Creek Science Camp student Megan Henry prepares to release a chum salmon she has just measured at the weir. Students learned how to sex, measure and take scale samples (used to determine the age of the fish) from salmon as they pass through the weir on their way to spawn upstream.
Henshaw Creek Science Camp student Megan Henry prepares to release a chum salmon she has just measured at the weir. Students learned how to sex, measure and take scale samples (used to determine the age of the fish) from salmon as they pass through the weir on their way to spawn upstream. - Photo Credit: USFWS

The sight of aquatic nets swishing and swashing in the waters of Henshaw Creek combined with the sound of constant laughter in the background, from both students and instructors, is a fond memory I have from camp. As the camp coordinator for the Henshaw Creek Science Camp, I had for months been planning and preparing, eagerly anticipating teaching another group of excited students at the annual camp. These sights and sounds were the reward for my efforts and patience! Dressed in chest waders and grouped into teams, students raced against one another to collect and identify as many different species of aquatic insects as they could. Monitoring aquatic bugs, catching dragonflies, and sampling salmon were among the many activities students experienced at the 6th annual Henshaw Creek Science Camp hosted by Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge in partnership with Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), The Watershed School, and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges (Friends). Held the third week of July, the camp welcomed nine 6th-12th grade students from Allakaket, Huslia, and new this year, The Watershed School in Fairbanks.

 

The week-long camp is held at a fish monitoring weir managed by TCC and funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Subsistence Management. Henshaw Creek is a beautiful location with abundant natural resources that provide experiential learning opportunities for students. As an outdoor classroom, the camp teaches western science while also instilling traditional knowledge from local Native elders. Four long-time residents and elders from the community of Allakaket, Pollock and Julia Simon, and Kenneth and Elsie Bergman, shared their invaluable knowledge and taught traditional subsistence techniques such as setting a fish net, building a fish-drying rack, cutting fish, and Athabascan-style beading. When asked which camp activity was his favorite, Allakaket student Oscar Penn commented “setting the fishnet, because I could learn how to set it when I grow up.” Each evening we gathered around the campfire, with a cup of hot cocoa in hand. Elders shared traditional stories that left lasting thoughts in our minds just in time for bedtime in our tents.

Each morning, students engaged in an outdoor yoga session to get their creative minds flowing. Fluent in the local Athabascan dialect, Denaakk’e, Susan Paskvan, Native Language Coordinator for the Yukon Koyukuk School District (YKSD), instructed daily lessons and games in the Koyukon language. Everyone had fun practicing their new traditional Athabascan words with each other. Students learned about the role of the water cycle on the land using numerous hands-on models taught by The Watershed School teacher and Friends volunteer, Moira O’Malley. Moira incorporated a variety of art activities into the curriculum including Zentangle drawings, dragonfly earrings, and handmade nature journals. She also taught lessons on the flora and fauna found within Kanuti and led a popular activity of dyeing silk scarves using vibrant-colored natural botanical dyes. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, also affectionately known around camp as “The Dragonfly Expert,” John Hudson, and volunteer Kim Frangos of Juneau brought a variety of nets and guide books to teach students about the life cycle, adaptations and roles of aquatic insects in the Alaskan ecosystem. Students participated in a dragonfly survey and assisted in documenting results to help in species conservation. Of the sixteen national wildlife refuges located in Alaska, Kanuti has the highest documented dragonfly diversity, making it a prime spot to catch these fast yet dazzling creatures.

Kanuti Refuge serves as the backyard to most students and elders who attend the camp. Residents from outlying villages including Allakaket, Alatna, Bettles, and Evansville rely year-round on the resources found within the refuge for meeting their subsistence needs. Located near Saagedlekkakk’et at the mouth of Henshaw Creek, the science camp teaches all participants about these unique resources in an environment that creates new friendships and lasting memories. While the creek is only about 30 miles long and 100 feet wide at the camp, Henshaw Creek hosts up to a quarter million spawning chum salmon in summer. It’s the nursery for a major contribution to Alaska’s salmon resource, and the base of an intricate food chain extending from dragonfly larvae to grizzly bears. This makes it an excellent location for an outdoor classroom.

To foster positive cross-cultural interactions between Native students from bush villages that are accessible only by aircraft and urban students living in Fairbanks, we partnered with The Watershed School in Fairbanks for the first time this year. Watershed is a charter school, and differs from other public schools in Fairbanks in that significant emphasis is placed on combining classroom science lessons with outdoor explorations and studies with direct connection to the community, the environment and culture. Seventh grade students at the school were asked to write an essay about why they were interested in attending the camp, and the two winning essay writers were selected to attend the camp. They embarked on a once in a lifetime opportunity to absorb and experience Athabascan culture and make new friends from villages located far from Fairbanks. When departing Henshaw Creek on the last day, Watershed School student Jolie Magelky said, “Going to bed was sad because we had stop to learning for the day. I wish camp was longer because camp was so much more than I ever would have expected.” Her classmate, Hudson Smith added, “I learned a lot about my favorite subjects, science and biology, this week. But the best things I’m taking away from camp are the new friendships I made. We live far away from each other, in very different communities, but we’ll always be friends now!”

The Kanuti Refuge staff is glad to be the catalyst that each year brings together an enduring partnership involving multiple cooperators, talented teachers and dedicated fisheries biologists. Henshaw Creek Science Camp provides a unique opportunity for students, staff, biologists and elders to share and learn.

Written by: Allyssa Gabriel, Visitor Services Intern and Camp Coordinator


Contact Info: Joanna Fox, (907) 456-0330, joanna_fox@fws.gov



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