Equipped with nothing more than their hands for tools and nature as supplies, about a dozen kids and their parents wandered into the woods, prepared to test their survival skills at Reedy Creek Park on Saturday morning.
Their mission: to build a shelter using materials found in nature that would protect them from the elements should they find themselves stranded in the forest.
The experience, which lasted an hour, is part of Reedy Creek Nature Center’s series of courses about survival scenarios. The classes explore dangerous situations, teach kids how to start a fire, how to build a shelter and how to find food.
“Survival is a hot topic, and you have to have some knowledge and know how to be prepared if something did happen,” said Corey Sperling, an environmental educator at Reedy Creek Nature Center who leads the survival courses.
Sperling started Saturday’s group off in one of the center’s classrooms to discuss the types of structures that can be made. The group focused on debris structures, which are the most efficient and consist of twigs and leaves found on the forest floor.
Survivors also commonly build thatch huts, wigwams, igloos, yurts and scout holes, or use pre-existing shelters like caves or trees, Sperling told the class.
A well-built hut consists of a sturdy frame made of large sticks and is placed on a flat surface, Sperling explained. Structures built on a slope increase the chances of water reaching an individual.
Sperling suggests shelters also include a layer of pine needles on the roof and the floor for insulation. And in order to stay warm, survivors should make a roof of leaves about two feet thick.
As for the size of the shelter, the smaller and lower to the ground a structure is, the warmer it will be, he said.
For participant Wray Farlow IV, 9, of Charlotte, building shelters is a hobby. One of his larger projects came just after Christmas when he rounded up all of his neighbors’ Christmas trees and used them to construct a shelter in his backyard. And for his birthday, he even received four sheets of camouflage plywood to build a fort with his dad.
Farlow decided to work on the structure project with Greyson Williams and Sloane Williams, siblings from Kentucky, who were visiting their grandparents in Charlotte for the summer.
Finding the perfect spot to build their life-saving shelter was the group’s main challenge. Midway into building, the three realized they were constructing their shelter over an ant’s nest.
“We first found our base and two trees close together to hold big sticks up,” Greyson Williams said.
The group’s strategy was to create a structure with few holes so they could pile on a leaf roof for warmth. They also wanted to stay away from poison ivy, Sloane Williams pointed out.
Greyson and Sloan’s grandfather, Glen Williams, said he decided to bring his grandchildren to the survival course because, “It’s useful to have some idea of how to take care of yourself and it gives you confidence to know you can handle anything.”
Participant Max Arenas, of Weddington, echoed Williams and said he brought his daughter, Rachel, because, “We love the outdoors, we are outdoor enthusiasts.”
The Arenas family spends a lot of free time hiking the Appalachian Trail and exploring Crowders Mountain in Gastonia.
“I like climbing across the rocks at Crowders Mountain, but there’s one place where you can fall off,” Rachel Arenas, 12, said of a recent trip. She attended the survival course at Reedy Creek because she wanted to be prepared in case of an emergency that left her stranded.
“It’s just in case you get lost,” she said.
“Programs like these build a connection with nature,” Sperling said. “I am hoping the participants will see the value of nature and the fruits that it provides.”