RAFT CRAFT creationS

Stella Brunet, 11, left, and Amelia Bows, 11, both of Marquette, work on a handmade bicycle rack Wednesday at the Adventure Building Camp, which took place on Dead River Storage property off Marquette County Road 550. The main project, however, was a raft. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Hand kids some lumber and a few power tools, and who knows what they’ll come up with.

With this past week’s campers at the Adventure Building Camp, it was a raft and, as a side project, a bicycle rack.

The camp took place at a large warehouse on Dead River Storage property off of Marquette County Road 550.

Camp Director Amber Dohrenwend got her inspiration from the Tinkering School, run by Gever Tulley, which took place at the same site in previous years. Last year, though, there was only one week of programming, but this year involves three weeks with two age groups: ages 5-8 and ages 9-14.

The abandoned, industrial feel of the warehouse made for a good camp base, with the 5- through 8-year-olds building an adventure playground in the warehouse.

“We had 100 straw bales, so they created kind of a terrain, and then on top of the different piles of straw bales, they built a pigeon’s nest and a treehouse with a slide,” Dohrenwend said. “They also built a pirate’s ship on caster wheels out of a very large watermelon box. They created a frame, and then screwed caster wheels to that.”

Then the youngsters used wood poles to move themselves around on the playground.

“It was really neat,” Dohrenwend said.

Although the program has a different name, a lot of tinkering still went on at the warehouse, located on a wild parcel of land close to the Dead River.

The spot would be a good place for kids in general, with a lot of time on their hands in the summer, to build a seasonal fort out of makeshift construction materials.

In a way, that’s what the campers did here.

This past week, the youngsters in the 9-14 age group worked on a raft that was to take to the water. The kids planned one day to take the raft on the Dead River from a section of the Noquemanon Trail Network to an oxbow lake at Boy Scout Island.

“They came up with the design themselves of a water wheel,” Dohrenwend said. “They’re going to actually use their hands to pull the wheel to power the raft.”

Adult instructors lent their expertise, but the kids still had to come up with a lot of the engineering brainwork for the projects.

“The kids actually design and work through all the problems with the design itself,” Dohrenwend said. “We just give them the prompt, which is: Build some kind of water vehicle to transport you from here to there.”

Wednesday truly was a tinkering day, with the raft almost entirely completed. A few tweaks were needed, though, including cutting a piece of pipe fitting so the wheel would roll more smoothly on the water and be more evenly placed on the raft, she said.

The raft then was to be rolled onto the “put-in” spot in the water.

So what becomes of the structures on which the kids worked so hard? Certainly they wouldn’t be assigned to a trash heap.

“At the end of the week, we raffle off parts of the project, or sometimes the whole project,” Dohrenwend said. “So, if anybody can take it home, then we put their name in a drawing.”

However, Adventure Camp still is just that: a camp, and with its outdoor setting next to woods, a wildflower field and the Dead River, they had to take advantage of that.

That means recreational equipment instead of hand drills or hammers.

“We have them bring a lot of stuff to camp because they go swimming everyday in the Dead River, and then we ride mountain bikes,” Dohrenwend said.

Engineering and innovation, though, took center stage at the camp, with kids having to focus more on finding the correct dimensions than roasting marshmallows.

Amelia Bows, 11, of Marquette, acknowledged the challenges that come with building something as simple as a bicycle rack.

“Sometimes it’s hard because you don’t get the right measurements,” Amelia said.

That means they have to redo steps.

And sometimes a project can be harder than it looks.

“This bike rack, it’s trickier than the raft,” said Stella Brunet, 11, also of Marquette.

A blog, which is kept on the camp’s website at www.warehousemqt.org, details the campers’ activities, complete with photographs.

For example, their adjustment of the fittings was the subject of one installment.

“We lost a few barrels along the way, but were still able to roll the raft relatively easy…well, except for a few spokes of the paddle wheel that were sheered off by the uneven terrain of the path,” it read.

Once the raft was in the water, they encountered a few problems but came up with a few ideas: to screw wood planks across the openings in the raft to keep the barrels lower, and the other using webbing lashed across the opening to position the barrels.

Both methods, it was discovered, would lift up the raft from the water. So, a combination was the chosen method, with webbing used on the top and bottom to secure the barrels.

“We celebrated after lunch with a few jumps off the rope swing,” another post read.

That was one of the ways they had fun despite the mechanical challenges. One photo entitled “Crayfish Surprise!” shows the delight on one boy’s facing as he holds the little crustacean.

The main purpose of the camp, though, is not making a raft or bike rack.

“I think one of the main goals is to figure out how to work with peers and build something together,” Dohrenwend said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.