Ross Christian, 5, contemplates what's left of his "Growling Good" bear chili at Saturday's Fall Fun Day at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Soldotna.
Photo by Jessica Cejnar
Ten second-graders trooped single file past twisted spruce trees, across the sun-drenched marsh down to Headquarters Lake on Saturday. Amanda Evans, at the head of the line, paused now and then to point out the subtle signs a moose or bear might leave for inquisitive young minds to find.
"I love working with kids," Evans said. "We do a lot of field trips. It's awesome."
Evans, a volunteer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, was one of several employees dedicated to showing youngsters the importance of getting ready for winter while celebrating autumn at the same time at this year's Fall Fun Day.
Evans and other volunteers led nature walks, demonstrated flint-knapping and served up soups, chiles and stews made from the finest ingredients the Alaska wilderness has to offer.
Education Specialist Michelle Otrowski said this year's event is geared toward fall exploration and winter preparation. Hunting is one of the refuge's "big six" objectives, she said, which include fishing, wildlife photography, environmental education and interpretation. Everyone at the refuge was instrumental in putting the event together, Otrowski said, from the manager to her intern.
Bailey and Garrett Horne joined the Day Star second-graders from the Apostolic Assembly of Jesus Christ Sunday school as they ran down the Keen Eye Trail toward the lake. Robin, their mother, said all kinds of animals visit the front yard of their Soldotna home and she would like her boys to be able to identify the tracks they leave behind.
"I'd like them to be able to identify tracks to be aware of what animals are nearby," she said. "Especially tracks where they may need to get back home."
The Horne boys didn't have long to wait for tracks either, just past the trail head, Evans pointed out a moose print. And further down the trail two kids turned up another moose print.
Back at the Keen Eye Trail head, Jim Hall, assistant refuge manager, demonstrated the important role stone tools played in establishing civilization. Part Cherokee Indian, he said his father grew upon a reservation in North Carolina, and taught him flint knapping or fashioning tools and weapons out of stone.
"We were all stone age people at one time," he said. "We all hunted with stone-age tools. It's a reminder we can step back to our roots if we desire and it's always good to remember where we came from."
Ostrowski connected the similarities between native peoples who might have used those weapons to modern-day Alaskans.
"Natives harvest just like Alaskans fill their freezers," she said.
Except shooting a moose with a .375 rifle and hitting one with an arrow are two different things, Hall said. A rifle can take a moose easily at 300 yards, he said, while with a bow and arrow you have to get within 20 yards at least.
"The skills are still there, but they're much more fine tuned when you go back to primitive tools," he said.
Back at the visitors center, Brenda Nichol, Pam Ables, Sandy Groth and Tai Davis dished Dall sheep tamales, "most excellent" moose sausage dip, "growling good" bear chili to John Grossl and his brother Benjamin. At 7 years old, John couldn't get enough of the tamales and went back for seconds and thirds. Nichol, who is part of the refuge's administrative staff and maker of the "Delightful Duck" tortilla soup, said this was the first time she'd ever cooked with wild game.
"I do my hunting at the grocery store," she said, laughing, adding that she did cook with domesticated duck once. "Wild duck is very lean and has very dark meet. You have to be careful to get the shot out of there."
Pam Ables, who was dishing up the moose dip, said she's so used to eating wild game that hamburger is too bland.
"We use it just like we do ground beef," she said. "It saves so much money."
John, who was tucking into his second little bit of tamale, summed it up.
"Num, num, num, num," he said, licking his lips.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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