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Student-led outdoors program developing in Big Sky

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By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Seventh grader Kjetil Hassman and eighth grader Nate McClain have big plans for Big Sky this summer. The two Big Sky Discovery Academy students intend to start an on-foot orienteering program in the community, in which participants will navigate their way to various checkpoints with a map and compass to see who can reach the finish line first.

Orienteering is a competitive navigation race that has gained traction throughout the world, emerging in competition variations held on foot, bike or ski. Various orienteering clubs have formed throughout the country; however, Big Sky has never hosted an orienteering event.

Chris Corona, Discovery Academy middle school teacher and Hassman and McClain’s mentor, said he had a nugget of an idea to start an orienteering program in Big Sky and presented it to his students.

“We thought that it was a good idea,” Hassman said. “We wanted to share orienteering with the community and have people from Big Sky get outside and into nature.”

“It sounded like a good idea to get people to do a new thing,” McClain added.

In January, the students were awarded $350 from the Erika Pankow Scholarship Fund for outdoor education as a start-up for their program. The fund was started in 1996 in memory of Erika Pankow, an avid member of Big Sky ski patrol, search and rescue and the fire department. On Dec. 25, 1996, Pankow was in an explosives accident during her regular avalanche check that claimed her life.

The money awarded to Hassman and McClain will be used to purchase materials, such as compasses and maps. Once the materials are purchased, Hassman and McClain will design a course under Corona’s mentorship and then invite their classmates to participate in an organized orienteering event.

The students plan to work with the Big Sky Community Organization in securing a location for a public course, and hope to offer orienteering to the community this summer.

According to BSCO Executive Director Ciara Wolfe, the orienteering program will be 100-percent led by the students. “Our desire to get involved was to support the youth in outdoor activities,” she said. “[Orienteering] provides a skill that can keep individuals safe … it’s a valuable skill to be able to orienteer and read a map and understand where you are in the mountains.”

Corona said the students might develop a youth orienteering club, and one way to get the community involved could be to partner with BSCO and offer orienteering through the organization’s Hike and Learn guided summer activity series.

As a part of their Erika Pankow scholarship application, the students wrote, “Orienteering will inspire the community of Big Sky kids to get out into nature and explore the wonderful environment that we live in. … We want to teach orienteering to the younger people in Big Sky to educate them to be strong and confident in the outdoors.”

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