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Fourth-graders treated to a day at Fort Sauvie

Government shutdown leads to improvised Fort Clatsop experience


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Sauvie Island Academy fourth-graders blow on a piles of embers they ignited using with only flint and steel.Fourth-graders at Sauvie Island Academy were treated to a brief glimpse of what life might have been like for the Corps of Discovery during the school students' day at “Fort Sauvie” Friday, Oct. 18.

Nancy Fisher, fourth-grade teacher at Sauvie Island Academy, had planned on taking her class to Fort Clatsop, four miles south of Astoria, but had to cancel the trip upon finding the park was closed as part of the partial government shutdown that ended last week. Fort Clatsop is the site where the Lewis and Clark expedition made its winter encampment from December 1805 to March 1806 before making the return trip to St. Louis. The site is now a national historic park and includes a replica of the corps' original fort.

The government re-opened Oct. 16, when the House and Senate passed a proposal to temporarily halt the shutdown until Jan. 15, and extend the debt limit until Feb. 7.

Although the shutdown ended two days before the class field trip, Fisher had already moved forward with a backup plan. When Fisher realized the park was closed, she sent a “mass email” to parents and community members to request support in creating an experience similar to that of Fort Clatsop, but held at Sauvie Island Academy. Fisher called it “Fort Sauvie.”

“The outpouring was incredible,” she said. “People brought in piles of feathers for quill-pen writing, flint and steel kits, hides, furs, animal bones and much more.”

With the help of parents and community members, Fisher set up multiple stations that student groups rotated through. The stations included quill-pen writing, candle-making, three sisters soup — a traditional Native American soup made of squash, beans and corn — making, orienteering, animal tracking and fire building.

Andrew Darco, a Sauvie Island Academy fourth-grader, was able to turn a spark into a pile of burning embers inside an Altoids can using only flint, steel, wood shavings and char cloth.

“You might hit your thumb and it really hurts,” he said of striking the flint and steel together to make a spark. “But it's awesome because you actually get to experience what they did; how Lewis and Clark felt when they did it.”

“The real-world problem-solving of a community coming together to help kids has been an extremely positive experience for us all,” Fisher said.

Now that the government has been re-opened, Fisher re-scheduled a tour of Fort Clatsop for today, Friday, Oct. 25.

“Students are so grateful that they will get a chance to tour the replica where Lewis and Clark spent the winter,” Fisher said.