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FOR THE KIDS / WILDERNESS TRAINING : Safety Tips for Great Outdoors


With summer coming, kids will be hiking and camping--some of them out in the wilderness for the first time.

They'll be exuberant, fearless, and the last thing on their minds is poison oak, rattlesnakes or getting lost. But such unpleasantness is out there, along with other dangers.

Both the Ventura Department of Parks and Recreation and the Wilderness Institute in Agoura Hills are offering programs for kids bent on sharpening their wilderness skills.


If kids want a longer and more adventurous class in wilderness skills, they can sign up for another of Baker's classes, which will be held Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. in Matilija Canyon near Ojai. The extended class is for children 5 to 12, and Baker covers much of the same information. However, participants hike into the canyon, cross a stream three times, and take a dip in a swimming hole.

Cost is $10 and a parent must accompany each child.


"I hate to see anything happen to children when it can be prevented by using common sense," said Eileen Baker, who has taught outdoor education for Ventura's recreation department for the last four years.

She makes her classes fun so children feel comfortable outside, but at the same time she loads them with safety tips about snakes, bees, spiders, bears and poison oak by using stories, puppets and songs.

She will be running a 90-minute wilderness skills class at Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura May 15 and June 5. Kids will be divided into two groups: the 3- to 6-year-olds will meet at noon, and the 7- to 12-year-olds at 2:30 p.m. Gathering in the Redwood Glen area of the park, the group will get some advice about rattlesnakes: keep your eyes on the trail, don't walk where you can't see the ground, and avoid sitting on rocks. If a snake bites a child, parents are advised to stay calm and take the child to a hospital.

They go on a short walk, learning to stay with a group when they are in the woods. If they become lost, Baker tells them to stay in one place by a tree.

The class costs $5 and requires a parent's attendance at no extra cost.


For kids who yearn to camp, Ventura's recreation department is offering a new program this summer. It's a five-day nature series that includes wilderness survival and camping tips, along with an overnight camp-out.

The city is now taking reservations for the series, which will be offered twice: July 12 to July 16 and Aug. 9 to 13. The session runs daily from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Arroyo Verde Park Monday through Wednesday. On Thursday, the kids will camp out overnight at the Ventura River Group Camp at the west edge of the city. The five-day series is open to children 7 to 12. The cost is $90.


The Wilderness Institute also has a weekend camp-out primarily for first-time campers. Scheduled for July 17 to 18, it's designed for a parent and child.

"We like the one-on-one concept," said Brad Childs, founder of the institute, which uses Campers learn how to build a fire, how to identify poison oak and edible plants, and how to use the stars for direction. The camp-out includes an adventure theme, and participants can test their skills in an Indiana Jones-style obstacle course.

The cost of the outing is $120 for adults and $85 for kids ages 8-14 years.


The Wilderness Institute also has a class for kids on how the Indians and early pioneers survived on the frontier. The class not only touches on edible plants, but how candles and rope were made, and even how to throw a tomahawk and trap animals.

The class for children 8-12 will be held May 8 from 1 to 4 p.m. The cost is $17.

Kids also can take a map and compass class to help them avoid getting lost on outings. This one is taught by Hartley Thornton, who has developed some innovative survival techniques during more than 50 years of experience in outdoor education.

The class will be offered July 24 from 10 a.m. to noon. The cost for children 8-12 is $15.


For more information and to register for classes, call Ventura Parks and Recreation at 658-4726, and the Wilderness Institute, 818-991-7327.

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