Nikiski class gets 'hoofs on' science unit at Exit Glacier

Posted: Monday, October 05, 2009

In the 26 years teacher Linda Zimmerman's lived in Alaska she's seen plenty of wildlife, but a few weeks ago she and her class of fourth-graders had an unforgettable encounter.

Photo Courtesy Of Mitch Langseth
Photo Courtesy Of Mitch Langseth
Nikiski North Star Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Linda Zimmerman stands uncomfortably close to a cow moose and calf on a trail leading to Exit Glacier in Seward on Sept. 12. "I think my look says it all," Zimmerman wrote of the photo.

Zimmerman takes her students to Exit Glacier in Seward as part of their science unit every September.

The kids get a chance to tour the area with a park ranger and learn about biology and geology that surrounds the vestige chunk of the last ice age.

She breaks the class up into groups, giving each group names that reflect some of the animals they'll learn about while they hike.

This year she had the moose, the bears and the coyotes.

Toward the end of hike, one of her students said their feet hurt, so Zimmerman hung back from the group she was walking with, the moose, to go a little slower.

With the group 30 feet or so in front of them, Zimmerman heard a loud crunching noise behind her.

"So I turned around," she said, "and my first thought was, 'Oh my gosh, that's a big brown horse.'"

Zimmerman quickly remembered there are no wild horses running around Exit Glacier.

Instead, cow moose with a calf in tow was trotting down the trail headed right for Zimmerman and the student.

"The little girl just looked at me," Zimmerman said. "So what do you do? I didn't have very long to react, so I shoved her (the student) behind a tree off the trail."

Now only Zimmerman stood between 800 pounds of trotting muscle and hooves and her class, which still had no idea of the approaching danger.

Trying not to frighten or agitate the cow anymore, she began to say "moose," to warn the students and chaperones ahead.

"It was just funny, when I said moose, they started making moose sounds," she said, explaining the group mistook her call for a little enthusiasm about their group name.

Still unaware of the approaching danger, Zimmerman finally just yelled, "MOOSE."

That got the group's attention.

"The look on their faces was priceless," Zimmerman said.

So was hers.

The ungulate came to a halt about eight feet from her, and one of the parents chaperoning the hike snapped a photo of an uneasy looking Zimmerman as the cow eyed up the class of fourth-graders.

The ranger told the students to stay together on the trail, but most quickly scattered into the woods, worried the moose might keep coming.

Zimmerman said the cow decided otherwise, and moseyed off the trail.

"The kids all came out of the woods going, 'Whew that was a close call,'" she said.

"This is part of the Alaska experience and we have to learn to live among the animals," she said.

None of the other groups saw the moose and calf, or the namesakes of their groups for that matter, most likely to the relief of "the bears."

While the encounter might have been a little too close for comfort, she said she and her class will visit the glacier next year.

She said there will be one change, though: "Next year I think I'll go with farm animals for group names."

Dante Petri can be reached at

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