Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
BECHAROF: Refuge’s Science and Culture Camp Back in Action
Alaska Region, October 18, 2012
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Encounters with wildlife were common during camp.
Encounters with wildlife were common during camp. - Photo Credit: Annette Wassillie
The classroom was the outdoors.
The classroom was the outdoors. - Photo Credit: Zoe Anelon
Observation was emphasized.
Observation was emphasized. - Photo Credit: William Lind

After a two year hiatus, Becharof National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is pleased to see its annual science and culture camp restarted. Taquka Kuik (Bear Creek) Camp took place September 10-14, hosting 10 students from Lake and Peninsula Borough School District.


The refuge began holding annual science and culture camps in 1997, bringing students from Lake and Peninsula Borough and Bristol Bay Borough schools to a site on the north shore of Becharof Lake. The buildings date back to 1967, when people from the region pooled resources to establish a bible camp on land then administered by the Bureau of Land Management. After Becharof NWR was established in 1980, the bible camp continued to operate under a special use permit until 1994.

Studies begun in 2001 found lead paint, fuel-contaminated soil, and other issues at the camp. Deterioration of the structures and concern about contaminants led to using other sites for the annual science and culture camp, beginning in 2007, while the refuge sought funding and work was done to clean up the old site and repair the buildings.

Clean-up and maintenance are ongoing, but the site was at last ready for use this year, thanks to many hours of labor by staff and volunteers. Students arrived from villages all over the region, from Newhalen to Chignik Lake. 8 adults participated, including elder Paul Boskoffsky, one of the founders of the original camp.

Activities were aimed at bringing students outside as much as possible, and emphasized careful observation. Long walks allowed instructors to cover topics ranging from insects to geology, archeology to bear behavior. Botany was a favorite topic for students. Wildlife was readily viewed: ptarmigan roamed the area in flocks, red fox and ermine entered camp regularly, and brown bears were encountered often. On one excursion, students saw a bear and her cub swim slowly along the shoreline for over a mile, catching and eating salmon. The 2 bears passed directly in front of the group while the students quietly watched—a memorable experience.

A USFWS photography kit was added to the curriculum, allowing students to use cameras as a tool for learning. A popular subject for photography was the caterpillars found in startling abundance. Capturing bees for an ongoing pollinator study was also exciting for students.

The camp is located in a federally designated wilderness area, so no generators or other mechanized equipment can be used. Propane provided heat in the main cabin and ran the cookstoves, and batteries and white gas fueled lamps at night. Water was hauled from the lake in buckets and filtered for drinking. For many students, this was their first time without running water and electricity.

On their last night in camp, a bonfire was held under a starry sky, bears and foxes circling at the edge of the firelight. Singing, story-telling, and sharing thoughts and feelings pulled the group together. The week seemed all too short.

Contact Info: Julia Pinnix, 907-246-1211, Julia_Pinnix@fws.gov
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