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Getting friendly with 'Great Outdoors'


Capac youth among local participants in June backpacking adventure



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July 16, 2008
Rob Blume, a biology teacher at the Macomb Academy of Arts and Sciences in Armada, thinks young people spend far too little time enjoying the outdoors.

In an effort to provide hands-on outdoor experiences for his students, Blume applied for and received grant funding for a backpacking trip last month to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Manistee National Forest and South Manitou Island.

Joining Blume for the six-day adventure, which took place June 16-21, were 13 students, including three from Capac, Corey Green and brothers, Ian and Torrin McDonald.

Not only was the local trio issued the physical challenge of backpacking in sometimes difficult terrain, Green and the McDonalds shared an educational experience that included lessons in ecology, geology, history and self-discovery.

"Of the 13 students, only two had backpacked, and only one of them extensively," said Blume. "There were seven boys and six girls, and of the (four) chaperones, only I had backpacked."

Despite the group's lack of experience, everyone managed to complete the trip and emerge with a newfound appreciation for nature.

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Ian McDonald (far left) and Corey Green (center) at Seaton Creek staging area of the Manistee River trail.

"It was very exciting for me," said Green, who had previously backpacked with the Boy Scouts in New Mexico. "It gives you a chance to really see what nature has to offer — things that you can't possibly see from a moving car."

Green, 18, said the group of novice climbers generally awakened at 8 a.m., broke camp an hour later and would spend about four hours backpacking per day.

"It was nothing too strenuous. We estimated our speed at about 2 miles per hour," Green joked. "It can be challenging when you're carrying a pack that weighs 35-40 pounds and you're going up and down hills."

Green noted that it was important for members of the group to stay together and not walk off in directions independently of others.

"We use maps and compasses, but you don't want to get separated from one another," he said. "It's best to stay away from paths that are uncharted."

With safety precautions always observed, the trip came off without a hitch for the participants.

"Our biggest concern was the chipmunks who like to make holes in our back packs," said Green. "We refer to them as 'mini-bears' or 'micro-bears.'"

A 2008 graduate of Capac High School, Green will study biochemistry at Northern Michigan University in the fall, a precursor for what he hopes will ultimately be a career in medicine as a general practitioner.

"I just love to do this (backpacking) and plan to to it again," said Green. "This is an awesome program that Mr. Blume has started. I learned more on this trip than I ever could have in a classroom."

Blume trusts that the entire entourage learned something from the trip.

"I never imagined that most kids would rather be inside than out," said Blume. "For six days, the only time these 13 kids were inside was during the car rides and two restaurant stops. I give them a lot of credit for giving this new opportunity a try."

Ian McDonald, 18, another 2008 Capac grad, said the trip turned into a hands-on science lesson for him.

"It was a new experience for me," said McDonald. "Just walking the trails and observing the varieties of plants and wildlife was awesome. I never realized how much poison ivy existed out in the forests, but we were warned about what to look out for and how to avoid it."

A math and science buff, McDonald said he was in awe of the natural beauty he encountered while backpacking.

"On our last day, we camped out overlooking the Manistee River," he said. "It was just gorgeous. I also enjoyed seeing some of the history of Manitou Island. We visited old schools and gravesites and we learned a lot about the people who were there long ago."

McDonald, who will attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the fall, said he has benefitted from his attendance at the Macomb Academy of Arts and Sciences. He credits Blume with helping create an environment at the school that inspires young people to succeed at the highest level.

"I definitely feel better prepared for college having taken classes at the Academy," said McDonald. "The classes are hard and challenging. The teachers make us think about things and challenge ourselves.

"It's more about the way they teach," McDonald noted. "They are very passionate about the subject. If they don't know something, they will tell you they don't know and find out. Or else they'll challenge us to find out and bring the answer back to class so we all learn."

To contact Rob Blume, call 596-531-1978 or email: rblume@armadaschools.org.

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