By June Mathews
Big Foot is headed to Trussville, July 6-10, and he wants to help kids in grades 4 through 7 learn survival skills. According to Verna Gates, executive director of Fresh Air Family, traces of the legendary beast will appear throughout this year’s Prepared, Not Scared Summer Day Camp.
“Campers will learn to follow his tracks, map his movements, forage for the food he eats and collect water from trees,” she said. “Did you know if you tie a garbage bag around the end of a tree branch, you’ll have enough water to drink by the end of the day? Good, clean water.”
But why Big Foot?
“I just thought it would be more fun if we were looking for Big Foot than just making a map of a mountain,” said Gates. “We’ll say, ‘Where do you think Big Foot might be? Let’s map up the trails and see where we’ve been and where we should go.’ It’s a whole tracking thing.”
The concept for a survival camp occurred to Gates, a reporter, when she sat in on the trial of Amy Bishop, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who gunned down several colleagues in 2010.
“One woman saved the rest of the department by going up under a table and pushing the shooter out the door,” she said. “The prosecutor asked her how she knew what to do, and she said, ‘My father was a hunter, and we took hunting safety classes every year.’ And I thought, ‘That’s it. The other people just didn’t know what to do, and she did.’”
So Gates went to Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale and proposed the Prepared, Not Scared camps to teach kids safety and survival skills. Hale, along with Hoover Tactical Firearms and Birmingham City Councilor Kim Rafferty now co-sponsors the camps.
Topics covered at camp include gun safety, weather safety and edible skills (how to fish and forage for food and find water, building debris shelters (“We called them ‘forts’ in my day,” said Gates.), tying knots, passive self defense, Internet safety and emergency first aid.
“We also talk about bullying,” she said. “I thought if we talked about bullying for just an hour, it’d be enough, but no. It is horrible. It’s so bad now. Social media has ramped it up.”
The Trussville Prepared, Not Scared camp takes place at the Trussville Athletic Center on the banks of the Cahaba River, and young campers, said Gates, love it.
“We think kids have gotten more sophisticated than we adults were at that age, and I’m here to tell you, they have not,” she said. “You throw ‘em in a creek bed in the morning, and you’ll have a hard time pulling them out at the end of the day. They still love digging in the dirt for worms and turning over rocks. Those are still the most fun things you can do in the summertime.”