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Winter camping made easy

SPICER -- Why prove your outdoor survival skills during the muggy, buggy days of summer at Many Point Scout Camp when you can do the same close to home and replace the incessant whine of mosquitoes with the absolute silence of a snow cave?

That's part of the reasoning that led five Willmar Boy Scouts to build a quinzee at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and enjoy a winter camp out last Saturday.

"We're excited to see what it's like," is the other explanation. Those were the words of Scouts Matt Flaig, John Pattison, Dakota Tjaden, Tate Hovland and Mitch Bengtson when we caught up with them that afternoon. The five Scouts are seventh graders and members of Willmar's Troop 227.

The five discovered that sleeping in a quinzee was "great." They slept soundly from midnight until 6 a.m., when their leaders came to wake them up.

The Scouts had gathered in the sheltered woods alongside Kettle Lake on Jan. 10 to prepare for their adventure. They spent a good part of the day shoveling snow until they had piled up a mound roughly the size of an igloo.

They let the snow settle or "sinter" and returned Saturday morning and started digging. And digging. It took around six hours to excavate an entrance and open up a chamber in the mound. Broom sticks were stuck in the snow to establish the parameters as they took turns digging.

By late afternoon they had created a dome-shaped sleeping space that could easily have fit eight or more.

Their fathers and Scout leaders -- Mark Flaig, Tracy Bengtson, and Lyle Hovland -- had no intentions of cramping the youths' sleeping space. They stayed next door in a wood-heated yurt.

The Boy Scout program offers a merit badge that requires building an outdoor shelter and spending a night in it. It's a badge that Scouts often earn during their summer camp at Many Point, the leaders explained.

They said the opportunity to build a quinzee and enjoy a winter camp out at Prairie Woods sounded a lot more enjoyable and adventuresome. For about seven or eight years now the Willmar Scouts have enjoyed a winter visit to Prairie Woods, where they've hiked, sledded and enjoyed the warmth of a wood fire.

This year was no different, except for the opportunity to lay out a tarp, unroll the sleeping bags and know the absolute silence and darkness of a quinzee at the end of the day.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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