Top Navigation

Featured Articles

Libby Museum Offers Outdoor “How-Tos”

The Laker - July 6, 2017

By Barbara Neville Wilson

Photo courtesy School of the Forest

The early-teen years are magical for discovering oneself outside the cocoon of the familiar. We’re lucky in the Lakes Region. “Free range” children are more the norm than the exception. Bike rides downtown, maiden voyages on the lake, and hiking expeditions to territory outside the realm of Mom and Dad create wonderful memories, build independence, and hone skills transferable to school, relationships and life. This summer, Wolfeboro’s Libby Museum has partnered with the School of the Forest on a new program that takes “free range” in the outdoors to the next level.

Titled simply “Outdoor Skills,” the program introduces 11- to 14-year-olds to base skills for survival outdoors. How do you cook? How can you protect yourself in the wilderness? How do you keep yourself and the environment around you safe?

From August 14 to 20, participants will do wood carving projects, experiment with cooking skills and equipment, and learn how to build weatherproof camp habitats at the Libby.

Led by Christopher Russell, an environmentalist by academic training and an alum of the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School of outdoor “How To,” the program will introduce young people not only to facts, but give them the first tools to “live in the outdoors,” says Christopher. They will not just learn how to “live in it” or “just the ecology, but they will know the environment and their place in it.”

According to his biography, Christopher is “a passionate outdoorsman, photographer and writer who enjoys having the opportunity to share that passion with young people. He has solo-hiked half the Appalachian Trail, canoed in the north Maine woods and camped out anywhere he could find a flat site for his tent, including the hills of Arkansas, the mountains in Nova Scotia and as much of his native Maryland as possible.”

Perhaps because of the voracious appetites of tweens and early teens, Christopher predicts the cooking portions of the program will be particularly popular. “We’ll attempt friction fires,” he says. “It’s a pretty hard thing to learn how to do, but kids love trying,” and they will make birch bark bowls and boil water in them.

The day camp, running 10 am to 3 pm, sounds like it will fulfill the dream of anyone who has ever read the perennial favorite “My Side of the Mountain,” by Jean Craighead George, or imagined leaving civilization for long periods. And although this class is strictly for young people, it came out of conversations between Christopher and Tim Smith, a Wolfeboro resident, registered Maine Guide, founder and head of The Jack Mountain School of Bushcraft in Masardis, Maine. He was described by the “Discovery Channel” as “the most accomplished backwoodsman you will ever meet.”

After becoming discouraged working in the non-profit world, Christopher had taken Tim’s Wilderness Bushcraft Semester at the Jack School to get back in tune with himself and his surroundings. He found the Jack school online, applied for and received one of its rare scholarships, and soon found himself immersed in bushcraft, education about edible and medicinal plants, tracking, weather prediction, orienteering, off-grid homesteading, hunting and fishing, and life without the trappings of modern life.

Well, one semester led to another opportunity, the Boreal Snowshoe Expedition, to another, and finally Christopher was one of Tim’s star pupils. One day, they were talking, and both said they wished they had had something like the Jack School around when they were younger.

Talk turned to action and suddenly they found they had planned a full program semester for youngsters called The School of the Forest. It launched with day programs this spring, and an after-school program is planned for Wolfeboro. “It just made sense to be in Wolfeboro,” Christopher says. “The New England area offers so much versatility.” The Outdoor Skills program at the Libby is a modified version of the longer programs.

Christopher is excited about working with the Libby this summer and the opportunities he and the School of the Forest will offer in after-school programs and through Global Awareness/Local Action (G.A.L.A.) this fall. Not all kids like to do sports, he says, but these programs let kids get outside and enjoy the outdoors while learning skills they’ll be able to practice all their lives.

One thing Christopher has learned in the first short programs the School has offered is a need to be flexible in his planning. “It’s sort of impossible to predict what will take the keen mind of a kid,” he says as he recounts an incident during a Plant Identification and Pressing Workshop. “There was a kid up from Boston.” He was the littlest kid in the group, just kind of tagging along because he had older siblings there, “and I just sort of mentioned that 100 years ago, people would boil pine needles to make tea. It’s a great source of Vitamin C.” After that, the boy was fully engaged, stuffing pine needles into his father’s pockets to make tea later, picking up samples and asking Christopher if they’d make a good tea, too.

“There’s something to be said for getting outdoors, and being able to be comfortable in it, and doing it earlier rather than later,” he says. Often people tend to think of an outdoor activity as a time to “conquer” nature. “Tim and I see it as more of a ‘romance’ with nature. We just want to be in it.” And encourage others to feel the same.

To register an 11 to 14 year old for “Outdoor Skills,” which takes place from August 14 to 20 at The Libby Museum, call museum director, Alana Albee at 603-569-1085 or email The Libby Museum is located on North Main Street, about four miles from downtown Wolfeboro near the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.


What Do You Think?