Chugach Corner: Mt. Eccles elementary students make debris huts, learn survival skills

Mt. Eccles Elementary School students learn how to build shelters using natural materials. (Aug. 26, 2021) Photo courtesy of Amanda Williams

The Chugach National Forest, Cordova Ranger District is a great place to play and create, and fifth and sixth graders from Mt. Eccles Elementary School did just that recently. A group of bright-eyed youngsters descended upon 18 Mile on Aug. 26 for a fun-filled day. The event challenged roughly 40 students to flex their creativity and critical-thinking muscles, all while working on team building and communication.

USDA Forest Service, Cordova Ranger District staff joined adult chaperones and provided subject matter expertise on various survival skills for the event, including building a shelter and demonstrations on bow drill fire making.

The kids were divided into four teams and learned how to select natural materials to build a debris hut that would provide shelter for the entire team. Each team’s hut showed the different approaches they took for the project. During breaks, students reflected on their construction techniques and resources they used for their hut making and talked about what they could have done differently.

“I think our fort turned out pretty good. We started putting sticks against a tree and started putting moss on top of it, it was kind of natural,” said sixth grader Kamila, who also shared their hut withstood the rain quite well.

Class curriculum is centered around instructing students on “early survival skills and self-sufficiency,” said Dave Zastrow, Public Services Staff Officer, U.S. Forest Service.

Krysta Williams, who teaches sixth grade at Mt. Eccles Elementary School and has led the field trip since 2019, shared that while students were able to imagine themselves in prehistory, the real value to the students came through working together and communicating with other team members.

Field trip support from community partners included Dave Zastrow and Steve Namitz of the Forest Service, Lauren Bien and Nicole Webster of Prince William Sound Science Center, Lisa Carroll of First Student, Victoria Peterson and fifth grade teacher, Railey Namitz, from Cordova School District.

Amanda Williams is a VetsWork intern working for the Forest Service as a public outreach specialist on the Cordova Ranger District. Williams is a Navy veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.