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Adventure Bound camp teaches life skills

JUST CHILLIN': Dirk Pitts, left, Hunter Bowles, Caleb Amos and float with their team, 'The Chillin Chinchillas, as part of a stealth greeting, sneaking in by water to surprise their instructor Roxanne Rachocki, during Verdun Adventure Camp team-building challenges. Photo by Adam Goings
With one eye half closed, Marita Ostrich, 13, peered through the magnifying glass at the red flower she had just finished sketching.

She picked up her pencil to draw the magnified area. Perspiration from the July sun slipped down her neck as she bent over the pad, her freckled face inches from the paper.

Donna Christiano from the Cedar Run Garden Club taught the six boys and three girls, all rising fifth- to ninth-graders, about plant biodiversity.

The lesson, where the teens and preteens picked three plants to examine and draw, is part of a week-long survival/sustainability camp program at Verdun Adventure Bound outside Rixeyville.

The Cedar Run Garden Club tends the produce and Cherokee medicinal gardens where Marita found her flower. In it flows a two-tier pond.

"Just about everything we do in life is connected in one way or the other to plants," said Karen Allen, president of the Cedar Run Garden Club, which sponsors the garden.

The day before, the campers connected with potatoes in the ground. They picked a basketful.

"They gave me a break," said Billy Wilken, a camp counselor. "Usually they pick on me."

The group studied pollinators, and made beeswax candles and a honey dessert. They'll learn flower arranging.

On the last day, they'll roast local produce and meat in a fire in the ground. A farmer in the area will bring gathered berries, nuts and seeds to make dessert.

Another group learned survival skills. They built a shelter about 25 feet long and 10 feet wide out of limbs, branches and leaves.

Around the shelter in the woods are plastic bags enclosing leaves on tree branches. This is a way to get water in the wild. Water condenses on the leaves, which drips into the bag.

Three boys crouch over a fire pit, enthusiastically striking flint on steel. Sparks fly, but the leaves underneath in the pit remain untouched by flame.

The campers also learn how to find food and identify edible plants. They purify water.

Counselors teach them how to navigate by the stars and moon and by compass, said Ed Bradley, the challenge course director, who was working with the campers in the survival course.

Team building exercises

Camp staff give campers challenges that serve as team-building exercises.

"In team building, you build spirit," said Dr. David Snyder, the camp director and founder. "Everything in your potential comes out."

One challenge is known as communication breakdown. The exercise takes place in the camp pond.

Two blindfolded boys stood at the edge of the water. One by one, their teammate guided them carefully onto the pier, instructing them where to step.

The first boy lowered into a canoe manned by another teammate with a paddle. The second boy followed, but as he sat, the boat flipped the three boys into the water with splashes.

They climbed from the water only inches deep back into the boat. This time, they progressed about 3 feet before falling into the pond.

One boy suggested a solution with which the other two boys agreed, that the blindfolded boys hang on to the canoe while their teammate paddled to the center of the pond where their six teammates waited.

Yellow, blue, pink and green balls representing food bobbed in the brownish water. The challenge was to guide the blindfolded boys, or "scavengers," to the balls. The team members in boats could use only their voices.

They were successful. The blindfolded boys scooped up the balls and felt for nearby canoes in which to drop them.

Roxane Rachocki led the team-building exercise. The swim instructor and lifeguard also teaches water-safety skills, rescue techniques, and gives paddling and swimming lessons.

The campers spend an hour and a half in the pond every day.

The survival/sustainability week is one of three weeks offered at Verdun Adventure Bound. The other two weeks are called Challenge and Native American Indian Camp.

In the Challenge week, the campers undertake a series of physical, team-based experiences ― the teeter-totter, for example.

A team has to balance for 10 seconds, first with just the captain, then with the captain and first mate, and lastly with the entire team working together.

Counselors teach Lakota and Cherokee culture and philosophy in the Native American Indian Camp.

This is the fourth year of the three-week format.

Coming attraction

Construction of an outdoor stage at Verdun Adventure Bound will begin in September or October. It will cost $250,000. The project is funded by grants, donations and a benefit gala, said Snyder.

The facility will be used for music, such as bluegrass performances, and battle of the bands, and drama. Snyder hopes to host camps for playwrights on the weekends.

Youth, particularly adolescents, are a long-time interest of Snyder's. He used this phrase to describe adolescence: "Where I'm going, I don't know, but I'm going."

Snyder bought a farm in 1975 and began a nursery apprenticeship. He and Stan Hayworth, his mentor, planted 30,000 trees on the property.

People ―Boy Scouts and other groups ―started calling, asking to come there for events.

"This was a message from God that I'm supposed to start a retreat center," Snyder said.

Shortly afterward, the Piedmont Boy Scouts asked to hold their "camperee" at the farm. Snyder felt affirmation of his goal.

Snyder taught mental health at the University of Virginia for 10 years. He covered the development of one's personal philosophy, value systems and relationship skills. Snyder infused camp curriculum with these concepts.

"The quality of life is directly proportional to the sum of relationships in life," he said.

Verdun Adventure Bound is aptly named. Adventure is part of the founder's view of individual existence and human interdependence.

"Life is an adventure of discovery within," Snyder said. "What you find, you cultivate and give to the world."

Email the reporter: aboozetroetschel@timespapers.com.

Verdun Adventure Bound

If you'd like to learn more about Verdun Adventure Bound, visit their website at www.verdunadventurebound.org. You can also find them on Facebook.

For general information, contact the office:

Email: admin@verdunadventurebound.org

Phone: (540) 937-4920

Fax: (540) 937-3713


Verdun Adventure Bound
17044 Adventure Bound Trail
Rixeyville, Virginia 22737

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