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Fairlee Workshop Delivers Outdoor Skills

Fairlee — Hulbert Outdoor Center program leader Nick Wood was explaining some of the camping skills he’ll show to Upper Valley Adventure Days participants when colleague Jake Yanni politely interrupted.

Having witnessed — and been wowed by — Wood’s expertise, Yanni felt his workmate was being a little too modest.

“This guy can get a fire going with a single damp log,” said Yanni. “You want to talk about camping skills, that’s pretty impressive.”

Wood’s introduction to camping workshop is just one of five outdoors skills courses available today as HOC hosts the second installments of the three-day-long Upper Valley Adventure Days.

Held on the pristine campus of the Aloha Foundation, a nonprofit network of various overnight and day camps at the northern end of Lake Morey, participants can spend 3-6 hours monkeying around on HOC’s newly constructed high ropes course and climbing wall, take a tour through the woods to learn about Fairlee’s old roads and natural history or shoot arrows on the archery course by the lake.

Workshop fees range from $10-$25 apiece (see chart, page B5), with discounts for kids 16 years old and under and for families.

Normally reserved for the Aloha Foundation’s registered overnight and day campers, UVAD is intended to make the network’s wide range of recreational facilities available to the broader community. HOC director Jason Knowles feels there’s a need for such outreach.

“We live in such a beautiful natural setting (in the Upper Valley), one might think that almost everyone who lives here does a lot of outdoor activities,” said the British-born Knowles. “But we’ve found that some people need encouragement to get out and utilize the outdoors. We have such a terrific staff with great skills here (and) we wanted to share that wealth of knowledge with the public and open our doors.”

Knowles, who became the HOC director last year, said the Adventure Days are part of a goal to introduce more programs that appeal to multiple generations within families. He hopes more grandparent-parent-grandchild combinations will come out today, as one did during the first installment on April 6.

“We had a family come to do the high ropes, and the grandfather said at the beginning that there was no way he was going to the top,” recalled Knowles, who plans to design a program specifically meant for grandparent-grandchild outings beginning next year. “By the end, he conquered his fear and was up at the top with his son and his grandson. I thought there was a lot of power in that.”

Individuals or groups of friends are also welcome. HOC director of communications Laura Gillespie was thrilled that her 18-year old son, Ethan Demarest, was planning to attend with a friend.

“As a parent of an 18-year old, it’s hard to suggest something that he actually thinks sounds cool,” said Gillespie, of Hanover. “But he’s going to come out, I think, because it’s something unique and different.”

Yanni, who led the high ropes course during a blustery day on April 6, said the program agenda varies depending on the age, experience and desires within each group. Obstacles on the course range from 10-40 feet high, with a lengthy zip line available for those willing.

“Some of the (exercises) are focused toward balance and some of it is geared more toward upper body strength,” Yanni said. “With the zip line, usually people are really excited about it or really scared of it. (The latter) think it’s really dangerous, but it can actually support over 1,100 pounds.”

Orienteering, led by Rachel Estey, explores map and compass navigation and segues into Wood’s camping-skills workshop. The Baltimore native will explain the difference between fire building for heat versus cooking, demonstrate methods for creating makeshift shelters and go over “leave no trace” principles and other guidelines issued by the American Camping Association.

Yanni’s local hike and natural history tour will bring participants onto a trail network through former agricultural sites now home to a diverse, mixed hardwood forest.

“We’ll do some tree identification by looking at bark, check out some moss and lichens,” Yanni said. “We’ll also look at what’s left of ancient Fairlee, some of the foundations that are well over 100 years old and roads that used to be major (passageways), but now are all grown in with ferns.”

During the afternoon session, those enrolled in the climbing tower course will belay on a sturdy, 40-foot wooden tower the HOC finished constructing just last year. An archery and aquatics course will offer shooting at a spacious bow-and-arrow target center before an educational portion about Morey’s lakefront and wetlands ecology.

After cold temperatures and wind made for extra challenges earlier this month, the HOC staff is hoping for more favorable conditions for Adventure Days today.

“We had about 20 hardy souls for what was a pretty dreary day (April 6),” said Knowles. “The forecast looks much better (for today), so we hopefully we can get at least 30 or 40 people to come out.”

HOC’s third and final Upper Valley Adventure Days is scheduled for May 11.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.