Scientific tracking in action

Negaunee Middle School students find buried fire hydrants

Negaunee Middle School eighth-graders dig out a fire hydrant along a city street. As part of their Environmental Adventures class, they used GPS and other means to locate the hydrants, which have been buried under snow. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

NEGAUNEE — One of the many challenges facing Marquette County lately has been dealing with the more than 210 inches of snow that have fallen this winter.

Even with all the plowing, snow blowing and shoveling, many things remain covered.

A buried picnic table is one thing, but a fire hydrant is a little more crucial. Fires don’t take a break in snowy weather, after all.

So, why not use a little scientific knowhow and the Global Positioning System to alleviate the situation?

Krista Squiers’ eighth-grade Environmental Adventures class at Negaunee Middle School has been taking to city streets to locate and dig up buried fire hydrants.

Normally the class would use GPS devices, maps and compasses for map land navigation, she said.

However, the community having a need coupled with the students being able-bodied — and learning environmental activities — called for a different approach.

“The Negaunee community is super, super when it comes to school stuff and supporting school things,” Squiers said.

Before they began another search-and-find quest on Monday afternoon, she said the students had dug seven hydrants so far.

“Some of them have been pretty buried,” Squiers said.

The city of Negaunee, she said, already had sent out an Adopt-A-Hydrant initiative. That gave Squiers the idea to get her students involved.

“If I knew where all these hydrants were, I could make this part of class,” Squiers recalled. So, she acquired a map of the city, which proved useful in the project.

However, the recreational activity of geocaching — the use of GPS to find buried objects — wasn’t an option.

Squiers likened geocaching to modern-day treasure hunting.

“Normally what we would do is we would go geocaching, but we can’t geocache with the snow right now, because it’s pretty painful,” Squiers said. “So, this is kind of like geocaching, but for the city.”

The students tackled digging out a hydrant near the middle school on Monday, and then moved on to other locations, also close to the school.

Their movements, of course, had to be done safely.

Logistically speaking, overseeing the students’ efforts as they walked the snowy streets took some special supervision, with Squiers shouting things like “Get on the sidewalk, please!” and “Wait to cross the street! Wait for me!” and “Look both ways! Are you clear?” to keep everybody safe.

The students overwhelmingly obeyed her instructions.

However, there were time limitations.

“We can’t go too far out because we only have 46 minutes in a class period, so we’ve got to make the most of it and then hustle to each spot,” Squiers said.

Not only did they locate fire hydrants, they dug out snow to make access easier for the fire department.

She acknowledged each hydrant has a pole that sticks up out of the snow to make it easier to find.

The students, though, could test their knowledge better by using their science equipment.

“It is reaffirming for them to know that they’ve actually found the right thing,” Squiers said.

The students also recently used their compasses in the science lab to find out the bearings they would need to travel down each street, even though they could have just looked on a map.

Again, it was more challenging to take on the hydrant project the scientific way.

It also might have been more enjoyable.

“It’s pretty fun, especially trying to find them with GPSes and then actually going out and doing it,” eighth-grader Luke Ulvila said. “It’s pretty cool.”

The adventures won’t be over soon for the Environmental Adventures class.

Squiers said the students will go on an overnight, 24-hour wilderness backpacking trip with minimal impact on the environment.

“The kids bring all their skills from this survival unit,” said Squiers, who noted the hydrant-finding activity is part of those skills. “They will make fires with flint and steel. They will set up food storage. They’ve got a lot of things on the list.”

Helping the community, though, was one activity the youngsters already could check off a list.

Squiers said she gave the students some words of advice as they embarked on their hydrant mission on Monday.

“It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” she said, “and this is the right thing for our community to help out, especially if someone can’t do this themselves. These kids can.

“It’s kind of a double bonus because they’re working on skills that they’re going to use in class, and they’re helping out their neighborhood.”

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