Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
TOGIAK: Lemonade Stand Opens to Rousing Reception!
Alaska Region, December 28, 2012
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Frieda Nicori is all smiles over her Dolly.
Frieda Nicori is all smiles over her Dolly. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Sarah Fuller shows off a stickleback.
Sarah Fuller shows off a stickleback. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Sydney Dray tries her hand at starting a fire.
Sydney Dray tries her hand at starting a fire. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Sidney Cleveland and Morgan Alfred try out their brush shelter.
Sidney Cleveland and Morgan Alfred try out their brush shelter. - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge
Ready... Aim... Fire!
Ready... Aim... Fire! - Photo Credit: Togiak Refuge

An oft quoted proverb admonishes that “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” And across rural Alaska, those lemons often take the form of inclement weather. So it was for the Togiak Refuge junior high Science camp in 2012.


Actually the name of the camp is the Cape Peirce Marine Science and Yup’ik Culture Camp, so named because of the camp’s location at Cape Peirce and the types of topics that are taught at camp. The plans call for as many as eight junior high students from around the Togiak Refuge area (nine area communities are eligible) to spend time at the coastal location and learn about marine mammals, sea birds and a host of other area related topics. However this summer saw a whole truckload of lemons dropped on those plans.

The weather in late July was fairly harsh. Strong winds, heavy rains and low cloud cover were the norm for the period of time leading up to when camp was supposed to happen. The first flight to attempt to get to camp made it to within a few miles of Cape Peirce before having to turn back because of deteriorating weather conditions. The next few days saw participants on weather hold, hoping for a break to come. Adding to the complication was the fact that three of the students selected for the camp were from Quinhagak, a community at the opposite end of the refuge from Dillingham. Dillingham is home to the refuge offices and it’s also where refuge camps are staged out of. Air travel between Dillingham and Quinhagak is relatively minimal, with no flight service providers having regularly scheduled flights. As a result, the Quinhagak students were brought to Dillingham on a chartered flight, to have their gear needs checked before heading to the field and to join up with other students for the trip to camp. A second attempt of travel was scheduled for later in the week but it too fell victim to unflyable weather conditions. With the clock ticking on when students needed to be back home, continuing poor weather conditions and overbooked air taxis with increasingly rigid schedules, the decision was made to abandon Cape Peirce and look for an alternate site. The lemons had won out.

The alternate site was Lake Nunavaugaluk. This lake is approximately 20 miles from Dillingham and is accessible by road and boat, which eliminated the need for an air taxi. Also, in the event the weather turned really rough, it would be easier to safely return to Dillingham from camp. The downside is that some of the content of what was to be taught at Cape Peirce had to be scrapped and new activities had to be brought into the picture and implemented, much of it “on the fly” so to speak.

Over the course of four days the students participated in a number of activities and discussions aimed at expanding their knowledge of specific outdoor skills, the role of USFWS and what it’s like to work for the USFWS. Some of those activities and discussions included:

• Students used dip nets and minnow traps to capture and identify juvenile salmonids, other fish and aquatic invertebrates.

• Catch and Release Angling was taught and practiced during a trip to the river at the south end of the lake. Discussions centered on the importance of Catch and Release techniques to a sport fishery. While fishing wasn’t exactly “hot and heavy” Dolly Varden were present in decent numbers and every student had at least one chance at a fish.

• Wilderness survival skills received a great deal of time and attention. In addition to “classroom” sessions (group discussions in the Bomb Shelter cook tent) students were given opportunities to put what they learned into action. Fires were constructed using a variety of methods, including matches, lighters, commercial fire starters (for example, Strikeforce by Ultimate Survival Technologies), steel wool/batteries and fire bows. Water was purified using different types of commercial filters, by boiling and by use of iodine tablets. Emergency shelters were constructed using a variety of materials, including limbs, tarps, duct tape, paracord and mylar thermal blankets.

• Bear safety was taught and practiced throughout the camp.

• Canoeing and rafting techniques were taught and the students had multiple opportunities over the course of the four days to spend time in each. The camp site is located along a very shallow bay, which provided a perfect backdrop for students to become familiar with small, unmotorized watercraft.

• Leave No Trace camping practices were discussed, stressed and practiced during the course of this camp.

• Archery was taught and practiced. Students were introduced to the different types of bows, archery tackle and proper shooting form.

• Over several evening “classroom” sessions the role of the Service in preserving our country’s wild lands was discussed. Also, careers with the USFWS was talked about in detail. One of the adult volunteers was hired through an internship through a local partner (Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation; Salmon Camp partner) and was able to add a unique perspective to the conversation, with regards to “getting one’s feet wet” in working for the Service.

A full complement of eight students participated in the camp this year, and by all accounts they had a great time and it was educational on many levels for them. Everyone got a chance to try something completely new, in the way of outdoor activities. Many of the skills that were taught were skills that will serve them well during their years or living and recreating in Alaska. At the same time, this camp was a very challenging camp this year, from the standpoint of what seemed like ever changing logistics. The express goal of this camp is for it to be held at Cape Peirce and for students to be able to learn about marine mammals and sea birds. However, camps held at remote locations are at the mercy of the weather, and this year’s weather was, well, merciless. In the end, the Togiak Refuge Junior High Camp- the Cape Peirce Junior High Camp- took a whole lot of lemons and came up with the best lemonade possible under difficult circumstances.

Contact Info: Terry Fuller, 907-842-1063 ext. 8419, terry_fuller@fws.gov
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