Outdoor Adventure Camp at MSU Tollgate Farm is an adventure like no other. 24 campers and 4 teen stewards took survival camp to a whole new level and challenged themselves with exciting wilderness skill-building experiences. They tested their limits in the forest and fields of Tollgate as they developed a survival mindset. They tried their hand at fire-building, wilderness first aid, outdoor cooking, shelter-building, climbing, and team-building trust initiatives. They even traveled by bus for an outdoor paddling and tubing adventure on the river and experienced an overnight campout on the farm.
Camp began with an orientation where we explored the idea that survival is an attitude. We began painting 8 banners, each with a letter from the acronym S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L. standing for a principle of a survival attitude. S, for instance, stands for Size Up the Situation. Knowing your surroundings, your skill level and the skills in your group, your conditions, and your timing will help you survive.
S – Size Up the Situation
U – Undo Haste Makes Waste and Use Your Senses
R – Remember Where You Are
V – Vanquish Fear and Panic
I – Improvise
V – Value Living
A – Act Like the Natives
L – Live by Your Wits and Learn New Skills
Campers met Dr. Nate, an emergency room doc who often teaches medical students and park rangers backcountry wilderness medicine, and Ben, an EMT-trained medic. They used mock scenarios in the forest to allow campers to try their hand at applying splints, bracing a C-spine injury, and treating hypothermia and heat stroke. Campers even created a homemade gatorade-like drink to replenish salts in the body.
After first aid, campers engaged in a contest to test different types of backcountry stoves to find their ABT (average boil time to bring 2 cups of water to a boil.) We learned about a white gas stove, a compressed gas canister stove, and an alternative fuel stove which burns small pieces of wood and generates energy that can charge a cell phone. The clear winner was the compressed gas canister stove which was lit and boiled water the fastest and which we then used to rehydrate some dehydrated meals.
Expedition team-building consisted of the 2 leg plank walk, the human knot, the giant spider web, and the teeter totter. Waking Carl the Megladon Spider when trying to make their way through the giant spider web meant campers had to sing a song or chant of their choosing. Each activity encouraged teamwork and problem-solving and resulted in learning through failure and lots of laughter!
We ended our first day together assessing survival priorities as campers ranked Staying Calm, Water, Food, Fire, Shelter, First Aid, Signaling, Oxygen and discussed which they would rank as most important in specific situations. For garden kitchen, campers helped make delicious fruit smoothies with berries, applesauce, and Tollgate’s very own maple syrup. Campers enjoyed the smoothie but saved some to make into fruit leather in the dehydrator for later in the week.
Tuesday OAC: Fire and Shelter
After morning icebreakers, campers began devising skits based on the seven Leave No Trace Principles. In small groups, skits were designed to express Plan Ahead and Prepare, Camp on Durable Surfaces, Be Considerate of Others, Treat Wildlife with Respect, etc. Preparing for our overnight campout with cookout, campers made fire-starters out of dryer lint and beeswax.
On our way out to the forest, campers paired up and searched for examples of wild edibles. The rest of the afternoon was focused in the forest as campers learned about the 10 essentials and why and how to hang a bear bag.
Pinnacle experiences at camp, fire building and shelter building filled the rest of the day with challenge, STEM concepts, and FUN!
Shelter-building began with natural found objects such as branches, logs, sticks, tree trunks, and, as the week progressed, we added tarps and ropes.
Wednesday OAC: Take to the River
Wednesday is a favorite for most campers, when we board a charter bus for an adventure off site and on the Huron River. We traveled to Argo Park Livery with swimsuits and lunches and spent part of the paddling in kayaks and the afternoon tubing the Cascades. Check out the fun we had learning new skills and paddling and tubing the river!
Thursday OAC: Climbing Toward Our Goals
Returning to camp Thursday, we began a day of adventure in the kitchen as we explored nutrition to stay healthy in the backcountry. We made spider oat balls with oats, flax/hemp/chia seeds, sun butter, Tollgate maple syrup, chocolate chips, and pretzels. Mmm good! Exploring how we use a variety of resources to signal for help if we get lost, each small group of campers came up with a scenario where they needed to signal for help along with the signaling tools – bright colored bandana, lights, signal systems, etc. Each group presented and challenged the group observing to figure out what their signals meant. After lunch, the physical outdoor adventure challenges took off as we tackled the slack line and the rock wall.
We focused throughout the week on teambuilding, including with our strengths inventory where each camper or steward was highlighted as all the others in the group shared a strength they saw in that camper. This allows the group to build positive connections as well as assess the collective strength of the group. Once younger campers left for the day, OAC campers prepared for the exciting overnight which included a cookout, archery shoot in the forest, and a rousing game of capture the flag. During s’mores around the campfire, the campers created a story as a group, each adding to the fun and laughter with their addition to the story. We ended the evening with a night hike, sans lights. We walked to the pond trail, observed the stars, did a silent sound inventory, and walked to a long-time camper’s favorite spot overlooking the pond.
Friday OAC: Fishing and Final Fun
Morning brought sunlight and an early morning breakfast-on-the-go, after which we took tents down quickly so we could get on with our day. OAC campers were responsible to lead flag ceremony for the whole group which they did with aplomb. Campers had been waiting all week to fish in the pond. For some, this meant learning to bait their hooks. All worked together to collectively catch many fish!
Leave No Trace skits were polished, shelters presented and dismantled (to leave no trace), and strengths inventory finished. Campers shared their skits to educate younger campers and their parents about the principles of Survival is an Attitude and Leave No Trace. Campers, stewards, and leaders alike had a fun, full week at Outdoor Adventure Camp building new skills and making new friends.