Mahar club gears up for wilderness trek

ORANGE — A dozen Mahar Regional School students, some parents and two staff members are preparing to take a trip to Minnesota for the seventh Wilderness Trip the Mahar Fish and Game Club has conducted since 1999.

Michael Roche, a retired coach and teacher, is the club’s adviser. He appeared before the Mahar School Committee this month seeking approval for the trip to take place June 10 through 16. The committee approved the trip unanimously.

The trip takes place in Ely, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is over 1 million acres and extends nearly 150 miles along the international border with Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park. The Boundary Waters contain 1,175 lakes varying in size from 10 to 10,000 acres, about 1,200 miles of canoe routes, 12 hiking trails and 2,000 designated campsites. It contains the largest contiguous areas of uncut forest remaining in the eastern United States, according to Ely’s website.

Roche says the trip is five days in the wilderness with no motorized equipment and no technology. He says it’s a rugged, physically challenging experience where students have to sometimes carry their canoes around rapids.

“The kids really take to it. They depend on each other. I remember on one trip we lived on Walleye (one of Minnesota’s most sought after fish),” Roche says.

All the gear is provided through an Ely outfitting company owned by Steve Piragis, a native of Athol. Roche remembers contacting Piragis when the idea for the trip arose over a decade ago. He says he and Piragis graduated from high school the same year — Piragis from Athol and Roche from Orange.

“All we bring is clothes, fishing gear and a camera. Everything else is provided,” says Roche.

Out of the seven wilderness trips the club has made, six have been to Minnesota and one, a 10-day trip, to Alaska. Roche says the Boundary Waters trip is a more hands-on experience whereas Alaska entailed more sightseeing. He said in Minnesota the kids work together and problem-solve; there’s group decision making.

“Entering the Boundary Waters we get a map and we’re permitted entry on one particular day and have to exit on another. You can stay at the first location you get to or go on,” says Roche about the trip.

All Mahar Fish and Game Wilderness trips are paid for solely by students raising their own money. One way this happens is through a raffle at the annual Fish and Game Supper. Another way they will be raising money this year is by selling Jack Link’s Beef Jerky through local businesses. They will be at Wal-Mart in Orange on May 18.

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