At MacGyver Camp, the Landscape is the Classroom and the Teacher

Gorge Makerspace mentor Jack Perrin works with a MacGyver camper on his idea to make a battery powered bike trailer as part of the challenge set for the campers this summer.

Tucked back in the woods of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a steadily growing summer camp called MacGyver Camp.

Created by the Cascade Mountain School and sponsored by Gorge Makers-pace and the National Forest Service, MacGyver Camp is an overnight summer camp where kids ages 8-18 can learn new skills in mother nature.

“With the landscape as our teacher, students develop the skills and confidence to think from a systems perspective on a range of human and ecological challenges, whether it’s food systems or watershed science, engineering or mindfulness,” said Program Director for the Cascade Mountain School Erynne Van Zee.

The MacGyver Camp takes place at the Forest Campus just off State Route 141 in Trout Lake. The Cascade Mountain School offers other types of camps, such as “Introduction to Backpacking “that take place at the “Wild” campus in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The first overnight MacGyver Camp was in June and was for kids 8-13 years old. The second is being held this week, Aug. 20-25, for kids 12-18 years old. The kids that attend the camps are a good balance of locals and kids from more urban areas like Portland and Seattle.

Like the Makerspace afterschool program, the kids are taught how to design and build with guidance from Jack Perrin and other counselors. Each day they have a “classroom” time where an expert in a certain field comes and talks to the kids and works on a project with them.

What makes MacGyver camp different, however, is that rather than building anything that comes to mind, the kids must work together to complete a preset challenge.

This summer’s challenge for the old kids is to build a camper that can be pulled by a bicycle and can be slept in or on. The campers have been broken up into their own teams to design, collect materials and tools, and build the trailer. On Saturday, they will race the trailers around to determine the best designs.

“If you win the race you will earn 30 points, come in second 20 points, third 10 points and so on. You can also earn points for how many people are able to sleep in the trailer, determining at the end of camp who the winner is,” explained one 15-year-old camper.

While the challenge breeds friendly competition, over all the kids work together to help and learn from each other.

“The kids may be in their own teams, but they overall end up working together, sharing resources and what worked for them. The competition really won’t come out until the end of the week,” said Perrin.

“It was really interesting doing this challenge with the younger kids back in June, they all made great trailers, but had some trouble biking with them. I had to help push a few times. So, I’m excited to see what this older crowd will do,” added Perrin.

One of the exciting things to happen at the MacGyver Camp, as well as other camps hosted by the Cascade Mountain School, was receiving over $13,000 in donations.

“This really helps us help families send their kids to camp who otherwise couldn’t afford it,” said Van Zee.

The Cascade Mountain School is a nonprofit outdoor STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program provided by the Mt Adams Institute. Offering a dynamic learning environment for adults and children, in which senses are enlivened and academics become relevant to daily life. Using a “systems thinking” lens, the Cascade Mountain School programs are grounded in ecological and community values using the human and ecological communities of Trout Lake, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Yakama Nation, and Columbia River Gorge for exploration.

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