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Two week-long sessions in George Rogers Park will teach kids essential wilderness skills

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Instructor Dan Coyle works with campers on their fire-building skills during a recent survival camp.Summer camp is traditionally about forging friendships through hobbies and outdoor activities. But this year, the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department wants to offer kids another alternative: survival skills.

Advanced Survivor Camp might sound intimidating, but as organizer Dan Coyle explains, the week-long courses are about using a combination of teamwork, intuition and gained knowledge to give youth confidence in their ability to solve any problem they might face.

“A lot of what the camp’s about is having the kids put down technology and see what they’re able to do by themselves,” Coyle says. “It’s an opportunity to see who they are in the world and in nature, without devices being a part of that.”

The camp, which is scheduled July 13-17 for ages 8-12 and Aug. 17-21 for ages 10-14, will be held in George Rogers Park. Both camps will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with mornings focused on survival and wilderness skills and afternoons devoted to scenario-based activities.

“We’ll tell them, for example, ‘You’re in the middle of nowhere and you’re cold and wet. Here’s what’s gone wrong. Maybe you have a tarp, here’s some string. You’ve got to get a fire going and a shelter made,’” Coyle says.

Each day will be devoted to a specific survival skill: Mondays are shelter; Tuesdays are fire; Wednesdays are traps and tracking; Thursdays are “orienteering” through mapping and compasses, along with rope-making; and Fridays are the “grand finale” days, when students are presented with a scenario that will allow them to incorporate everything they’ve learned during the week.

“We make it creative and colorful,” Coyle says. “Sometimes it’s a ‘zombie apocalypse,’ and we tell them, ‘You’re going to use all these skills to ward off zombies. You’ve got to be able to track, to use your compass.’”

Along the way, there’s homework — of the more unconventional kind.

“At the end of the day, we’ll tell them, ‘Go home and try to build a fort or shelter in your backyard, build a trap, and tell us about it,’” Coyle explains.

Coyle runs a company called Coyle Outdoors, using wilderness curriculum he created in 2010 as an extension of his 12 years in the wilderness therapy industry.

“I used to work with at-risk teenagers, doing three-week trips,” Coyle says. “I love working with kids who are struggling and giving them exposure to something that is simple and requires a lot of creativity from them, and that also requires them to look at where they’re at with communication skills and cooperation. I love using nature-based experiences to give kids some clarity about what they want their lives to look like.”

He has run similar camps in McMinnville, Bend, Newport, Newberg, Albany and Sisters. But it isn’t just about survival, Coyle says — it’s also about “giving kids an exciting connection to nature.”

“When I grew up, for better or for worse, no one offered this kind of thing because kids were outside so much,” he says. Among other things, he views his courses as “vehicles for getting kids more outdoor time.”

“I want to get them to start asking, ‘How do I be a leader,’” he says, “rather than someone who has to be rescued.”

The cost for each week-long Advanced Survivor Camp is $295 for residents of Lake Oswego, $340 for non-residents. To register or for more information, check out the Parks & Rec Department’s Summer Activities Guide or go to, click on ‘Activities” and then on “Camps.”

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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