Wilderness Survival and Bushcraft Camp director Matt Mercer, left, and camper Nicholas Wester, right, start a fire Tuesday in Wilson. Photo taken Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Drew C. Wilson | Times
Wilderness Survival and Bushcraft Camp director Matt Mercer, leads campers through the woods near Greenfield School on Tuesday in Wilson. Photo taken Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Drew C. Wilson | Times
By Drew C. Wilson
Times Staff Writer
Sparks flew as Nicholas Wester scraped a flint strip across a magnesium bar.
Below was a dry tinder bundle of stripped tree bark.
“There it is,” Wester said. “It’s burning.”
In a few seconds the “bird’s nest” was engulfed as Wester and his teammates added kindling and larger wood fuel to sustain the fire.
This was Wester’s first attempt to start a fire as part of the Wilderness Survival and Bushcraft Camp held at Greenfield School in Wilson.
“It’s probably like one of the biggest fires like that that I have ever started,” Wester said. “It’s exciting.”
A dozen preteen boys and girls participated in the camp last week. The focus is to teach the essential skills necessary to survive in the wilderness for 72 hours or less.
“I think it’s good too because you never know when you could be in a situation like this where you might have to provide for yourself,” said course instructor Matt Mercer.
Being lost happens all of the time, Mercer said.
“We hear about it on the news about kids getting lost, and normally it’s 72 hours or less, so if they know how to provide for themselves the basic needs, like keeping themselves dry, help keeping themselves hydrated, how to make a shelter for themselves.”
“You never know,” said Wester, who is 12. “If you go in the woods sometimes, you never know what can happen and if you can learn these skills at an early age, then it could help you out in the future.”
Mercer said it’s good for everybody to know these types of skills.
“It gives you a better appreciation of nature and it just helps you to be aware of the things that are around you and makes you appreciate the environment more,” Mercer said. “Those basic things could really be lifesaving, so I think it’s good for them to know those basic skills. It also gives them confidence to know that they know how to do these things and how to keep themselves safe and comfortable in a woodland environment.”
David Teofer, 12, of Wilson, said he had never made a fire before attending the camp.
“I didn’t know how to do it before and now I do,” said Toefer. “So if you are stuck in the wild, you would know how to survive.”
Mattie Metts, 10, of Wilson, said attending the camp was a fun way to learn how to take care of yourself in the wilderness.
“I think it’s really helpful if you ever like actually need it,” said camper Metts. “Once you learn how to do it, you can do it faster and it might be easier so you can find stuff better.”
Students learned the survival rule of threes, that a person may be required to spend up to three minutes without oxygen, spend up to three hours in a harsh environment, spend up to three days without water and spend up to three weeks without food.
The campers learned about plants that are useful, plants that are edible and plants that are poisonous. They learned how to make a shelter and they were told to be wary of ticks, mosquitoes and snakes.
At one stop along the trail, the campers were interrupted in their activity when a venomous copperhead snake was spotted in woods a few feet away.
It was a good reminder to be aware of one’s surroundings in the woodland environment.
“Luckily, we saw him first,” Mercer said. ”You’ve got to keep your eyes peeled.”
Mercer said young people nowadays have a bit of a disconnect from reality.
“Kids get to do amazing things with their video games. I teach martial arts and kids can go on the video and be a ninja right away whereas when they come to the school, that’s real life,” Mercer said. “Being able to get out here in the woods, this is seeing the real world around them and actually enjoying themselves doing something that’s realistic, something that they can pass to their kids someday and pass from one generation to the next.”
Mercer divided the groups into small teams to accomplish tasks.
“I think it’s good for them to work together as a team because in the real world we have to work together with other people and some people may be of a different mindset and stuff, so we have to learn how to work together,” Mercer said. “That social skill I think is very important, especially for young students and especially in the age when they are texting and chatting on their computers and they don’t have those personal interactions, so I think that it is all the more important for us to get them to work with each other and get along with different people that they might not know.”
“Teamwork is something that is really important that you learn through this group. You have to work as a team to find everything,” Wester said. “If I was working by myself I could have never gotten all this stuff.
Wester said it is a treat to see the young people’s reaction to their experiences in the woods using their newfound knowledge.
“Our forefathers had to depend on these skills, so I guess to some degree, this gives them some appreciation for what they had to deal with,” Mercer said.