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Summer Program in Farmington Hills Gives Kids a Taste of Wilderness

The 'Lewis & Clark Expedition' accomplishes its goal of getting kids familiar with the outdoors and getting into the mud.

A group of Farmington Hills-area children proudly gathered Wednesday in front of the Native American longhouse they built to mark the end of a unique summer experience.

The Lewis & Clark Expedition, which took the kids on a virtual wildnerness tour, was the brainchild of Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources retiree Paul Augsberger. In February, he went to youth and family services director Todd Lipa with the idea. 

"The school district identified kids for us who would be a good fit for the program," Lipa said. "From there, it just sort of grew." The city partnered with Heavener Nature Connection to launch the one-of-a-kind program.

Augsberger, Kathy Martin, a counselor with , and fourth grade teacher Ron Johnson shepherded the group through the seven-week program. Johnson said he will bring  the lessons he learned teaching in the outdoors back into his fourth grade classroom this fall.

Inspired by outdoor lessons 

In addition to other activities, the children built a Native American "longhouse" near the in . They stripped bark from tree limbs for the frame, which is secured with baling twine, Augsburger said. 

Devon Osborn, 11, called the Lewis & Clark Expedition "inspiring". 

"I feel inspired to make a fort," he said, adding he also wanted to spend more time outside. "We went fishing, kayaking, canoeing, got rained on, got muddy." 

Martin said the kids wrote supportive things about each other and about themselves in journals every day. As the program ends, she said, "they are far more self-confident, far more interactive." They've also grown to better tolerate, and even enjoy, getting muddy and close to nature, she said. 

Johnson said reinforcing the lessons students learned in the classroom during the last school year will give them an advantage this fall. 

For Alan Heavener, founder of Heavener Nature Connection, combining education with the outdoors experience is the ultimate goal.  

"The kids are learning by experience, rather than reading about it in a book," he said. "They'll remember this for the rest of their lives." 

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