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Kids dig into nature at Camp Arrowhead

Leah Bjorgo, 10 (center), holds a log as Catherine Dicastri, 10, (right), practices sawing with Nadia Starich, 9, at Camp Arrowhead, a day camp for learning survival skills, archery, nature study and camp cooking.

Leah Bjorgo, 10 (center), holds a log as Catherine Dicastri, 10, (right), practices sawing with Nadia Starich, 9, at Camp Arrowhead, a day camp for learning survival skills, archery, nature study and camp cooking.

July 22, 2014

Finally — kids have a reason to get dirty.

At Camp Arrowhead, a day camp through the Wauwatosa Recreation Department, kids hike through Menomonee River Parkway, cook for themselves over open campfires, practice archery and learn survival skills under the supervision of counselors. The experience is hands-on and spares no child who is afraid of bugs, mud and the natural elements. For many, that's the fun of it.

"You definitely don't leave the day smelling well," said Sharon Gonnella, camp counselor.

The day starts with learning survival techniques, like lashing sticks together with twine, building A-frame campfires, handling two-man saws and learning to hatchet logs the size of a wrist.

"They take it very seriously and want to learn," Gonnella said.

Camp Arrowhead has a been a program of the recreation department for as long as most employees can remember. Each session is two weeks long and admits 55 kids per session. Children who have completed second through fourth grade can attend.

"We notice a lot of the kids we have here do Outdoor Adventure," Gonnella said.

Outdoor Adventure is a series of field trips to places like Devil's Lake State Park. It is for kids who have completed grades five through eight. The recreation department's third day camp is Wau-Wau-Tae-Sie, designed for K4 through first-graders.

Digging in

Out in the forest, Arrowhead campers must apply their survival skills. While walking to their individual campsites, some children notice trails signs made from sticks on the ground. They are an indication of hikers that have gone before the group to mark the safe route and also indicate their final hiking destination. An "X" means to not go a certain way.

Once at their site, campers transform the sticks they lashed with twine into backpack racks to hang their personal belongings. Now the mission is to create fire.

Small groups disperse through the forest in search of tinder, kindling and fuelwood. Tinder is a dry, fluffy and easily shredded material like grass, pine needles and wood shavings. The fire starts from tinder. Campers then seek out kindling — small twigs, little wood splinters or fuzz sticks — to grow the small fire. Lastly, they add fuelwood, which is not bigger than a person's wrist.

"My mom lets me make campfires at home because I learn it here," said Nadia Starich, 9.

Gonnella said another aspect of camp is teaching kids about respecting nature and cleaning up after themselves on the trail. Camp Arrowhead even shares folklore of a "blue-footed marshmallow crane" who eats marshmallows that are left on the ground.

The rest is just fun — roasting food over the campfire, practicing archery, going swimming at Wauwatosa West High School or visiting places like Kohler-Andrae State Park in Sheboygan.

"I think it's really pretty out here," said Caroline Callahan, 9. "I just like exploring nature and learning new things."

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