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Outdoor adventure camp in Conway aims to build character

  • Frank Grindrod, the director of Earthwork Programs, hikes through the forest at the Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities in Conway, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Anna Cuthbert-Laidlaw, 12, of Florence and Casey Barber, 10, of Northampton, assemble a shelter made of tree branches in the woods at the Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities in Conway during an Earthwork Programs Wilderness Survival day program Wednesday, April 19, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • A debris shelter in the woods at the Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities in Conway, the location of camps which are part of Earthwork Programs. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Frank Grindrod, the director of Earthwork Programs, describes some homemade rope made by program participants at the Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities in Conway, the location of camps which are part of Earthwork Programs. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Casey Barber, 10, of Northampton, bandages the hand of Anna Cuthbert-Laidlaw, 10, of Florence during an Earthwork Programs Wilderness Survival day program Wednesday, April 19, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Nicky Elias-Gillette, 11, of Williamsburg, and Skye Loomis, 10, also of Williamsburg, carve blocks of wood into stakes at an Earthwork Programs Wilderness Survival day program at the Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities in Conway, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Frank Grindrod, the director of Earthwork Programs, describes a shelter in the woods at the Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities, the location of camps which are part of Earthwork Programs. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Ben Gottlieb, 12, of Northampton, blows on a glowing ember during an Earthwork Programs Wilderness Survival day program Wednesday, April 19, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Several children at an Earthwork Programs camp at the Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities in Conway Wednesday, April 19, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt



Recorder Staff
Monday, May 01, 2017

CONWAY — Wind whispered through white pine trunks in a glade not far from a clearing where Earthwork Programs’ campers built a tarp wind break in front of a smoking camp fire.

Seated on logs around the fire, a few others hammered knives into small branches — a technique called batoning — splitting them into smaller pieces, to be carved smooth and smoldered into coal-burned spoons.

“We’re learning knife skills, saw skills. It’s so fun. Everything you could ask for in a program,” said 9-year-old Kona Wasley, one of seven students camping out on nearly 50 untouched acres at Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities on Ashfield Road in Conway, where Earthwork Programs hosts activities. Elsewhere, Campers Anna Cuthbert-Laidlaw and Casey Barber built a shelter from branches.

“This program really makes me feel like myself,” said 12-year-old Ben Gottleb. “We do a lot of fun things, like take coal, let it dry, and paint our faces!”

Earlier, before playing a game of “capture the flag,” Ben said instructor Micah George assigned him the task of watching a nearby river, reporting back with results.

The campers were engaging in what Earthwork Programs Founder Frank Grindrod called “a deep nature connection that can really enhance quality of life. People come out here and say, ‘I feel calm. I feel peaceful, and alive.’”

“We have a major loss of ‘nature connection’ in our society. Kids need to spend time in the woods. And we’re teaching skills they’ll be able to use camping,” George said, after the wind break had been put up.

That “nature connection” is achieved through fire making, nature art, animal tracking, building shelters, “aidless navigation,” learning about wild edibles, and other survival skills. In addition to various programs for young students — including a summer camp — Earthwork Programs hosts family camps, adult wilderness survival training and classes among other outdoor excursions in the region throughout the year.

The organization also leads adventure groups around the country. Past excursions include Alaska, Arizona and Utah.

Grindrod, a former Marine who started the program in 1999 after attending Greenfield Community College’s Outdoor Leadership program, said being in the woods “is part of our DNA. When we get out here, it’s more a process of remembering, not learning.”

“My dad was really into nature. He’d tell stories about my aunt hand-feeding birds, and I was like ‘that’s impossible.’ Then I started doing it,” Grindrod said.

One year, Grindrod stayed in an outdoor “debris shelter,” warmed with body heat, for days each month to test his survival limits.

“I’d go out, hike around, pretend I was lost,” Grindrod said. He’s slept in a shelter at “15-below freezing, in jeans, a fleece and hiking boots. If you build this correctly it can withstand 40-below temperatures.”

Grindrod noted that Earthwork Programs hosts outdoor events during the winter.

“We’re always outdoors, whether it’s raining or sleeting. It builds character,” he said.

Numbers swell, though, in warmer months. Each year, about 200 kids come through in the summer, with an average camper to counselor ratio of one to six. The ratio is often higher, Grindrod noted, when interns from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Smith College and other local colleges and universities are helping.

For more information visit earthworkprograms.com.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo