HOUGHTON - Even compared to a relatively rural area such as the Copper Country, the serene and rustic qualities of Isle Royale National Park can be an eye-opener.
And that's just what it was for many in a expedition for Houghton and Keweenaw county middle school participants who spent five days and four nights on the island.
The seven students and three teachers were part of Expedition: Isle Royale, a pilot program part of the Isle Royale Institute's Upper Peninsula Youth to Parks Initiative. The trip involved learning about Isle Royale's natural and cultural resources, along with activities such as canoeing, camping and backpacking, including 22 miles of hiking over the trip.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
The crew returns to Houghton on the Ranger III June 16 in Houghton.
"We hiked a lot," said Heidi Harmala of Calumet. "We learned a lot about different plants and animals."
Instead of approaching it as discrete chunks of learning time, or hiking time, they approached it as a unified experience, said teacher Brian Rajdl. One of their day trips might lead into a discussion of the animal life, or the type of plants found there - "so that learning is just mixed in with the trip," he said.
Students also kept journals during the week to reflect on their visit. Students said they enjoyed being able to get away from the hectic pace of the mainland.
"It was a real life-changing experience," said Houghton eighth-grader Colin Jackson.
The students, all eighth-graders, had to be nominated by teachers and were chosen based on their answers to the questions "What defines a wild place to you?," "What can you do to protect these wild places?" and "Why are national parks important to you?" Going on the trip were Graham Frantti of Calumet, Heidi Harmala of Calumet, Colin Jackson of Houghton, Hannah Tuomi of Chassell, Nick Trezona of Lake Linden and Toby Wheeler of Houghton.
Rajdl said the students handled the trip well.
"That group came together really quickly," he said. "They had no problem (going) without the usual amenities, being in the woods and they appreciated being where they were."
The biggest thing they got out of it was an appreciation of the wilderness, Rajdl said.
"We kind of have wilderness here, but it's been preserved (there)," he said. "It's a special place, being a national park."
The National Park Service funded the project with a one-year grant. They're hoping to make it an annual event, Rajdl said.
"We're looking for community support to keep it going," he said.