NORTH SALEM — If you’re ever thrown into the woods with nothing but the clothes on your back — good news — the McCloud Nature Park is teaching youth how to survive in such a situation, or simply to primitively camp. The county park held its first Survivalist Day Camp this past Thursday for a host of area youths — and a few unexpected turkey friends joined in the fun.
William Roche, director of Hendricks County Parks and Recreation, said the program was met with wild success, filling up rapidly as youths ages 8 to 12 partook in a host of events aimed at making the most out of the great outdoors.
During the camp, children learned how to identify certain plants, both hazardous and beneficial. They learned how to build an impromptu shelter and how to make a fishing pole and practice fishing.
“It’s like ‘Survivor,’ but a toned-down version,” Roche said of the camp. “Even though it’s a kids’ camp, we want them to have value, not only having fun but learning. The opportunity may arise that they may go on excursions in the future and it’d be helpful if you have some skills.
“I think this program is a little bit unique in that there’s not a lot of it out there, and we have one of the most perfect locations for it, a 232-acre nature park.”
Then there were the turkeys, new and unexpected friends of the park this year, named Tom and Toby that had the children captivated at times.
“We left the door open this week and they actually walked in and wandered around the nature center,” said Connie Landers, assistant naturalist. She said the turkeys were unusually friendly toward people and hung around the nature center most of the day.
As for the camp, chilly temperatures didn’t dampen spirits and fun. Roche said it was a program that was a good relief from the doldrums of a cold spring break and that it was good to educate youth about the positive aspects of hiking as well as being able to find food and shelter if the need ever presents itself.
“Unfortunately, nature has become more of a mystery to youths,” Roche said. “They’re more used to urbanized activities and electronic devices. There’s not as much time for free play in nature. Part of the excitement is the recent popularity of shows like ‘Survivor’ or (’Man vs. Wild’ star) Bear Grylls. You’re mixing mystery with adventure.”
Roche said he hopes programs such as this pass on the love the Hendricks County Parks staff and he have with the outdoors.
“What I enjoy most about nature is truly being immersed in it,” Roche said. “It gives you a lot of time to enjoy something you’ve almost forgotten about in today’s world with all of the business and stresses. (With something like this), you get to focus on the basics and enjoy nature.”