SOUTH PORTLAND — Jim Bridge, a volunteer with Maine Search and Rescue Dogs, began his woods safety workshop In the basement conference room of the South Portland Public Library by asking parents and young children, “what is the most important thing to take with you in case you get lost in the woods?”
Immediately, several little hands shot up in the air, eager to give the right answer.
“Water!” said one confident young girl.
“No,” Bridge replied.
After a few more incorrect guesses, he supplied the answer that surprised children and parents alike.
“Your brain is, by far, your most important survival tool,” Bridge said. “By remembering what you learn here today, you’ll know what to do so you don’t get lost in the woods, and if you do get lost, how to stay safe until you are found.”
The “Lost! … But Found, Safe and Sound” program was developed for children ages 4-12 by the Association of National Park Rangers. The cornerstone of the program is an award-winning video by the same name that chronicles the actions and thoughts of a 7-year-old girl who gets lost and eventually found in the woods by a search and rescue dog.
After the 12-minute video, Bridge reiterated the main points of the program. He said preventive measures include:
• Talking with children about the importance of staying on the trail and close by at all times.
• Parents should buy a small backpack or equivalent and make it mandatory for the child to wear it when going on a hike. The two most important things in the pack should be a loud whistle on a necklace and a large trash bag. Other items recommended are water, snacks and a brightly colored bandanna.
• Parents should take note of what brand and shoe size the child is wearing so the authorities can easily identify and track footprints.
Survival measures for children include:
• When you realize you’ve become lost, stop. Find a tree and stay put.
• Make a “nest” by making a hole at the top of the trash bag for your head and put it over your body to stay dry and warm.
• Blow your whistle instead of shouting, to conserve energy.
• Hang a brightly colored cloth on a tree branch or place it in an open area nearby.
“Between the Maine Warden Service and our search and rescue dogs, if you get lost in the Maine woods, we will find you,” Bridge reassured the crowd.
On hand to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Maine Search and Rescue Dogs was longtime dog handler and MESARD volunteer Nancy Troubh of Portland, and her certified rescue dogs, golden retrievers Gus and Spirit. The children in the audience expressed amazement at how quickly Spirit successfully found scented items Troubh had hidden around the room.
MESARD is run entirely by volunteers like Troubh and Bridge.
“Most of our volunteers will use up their vacation time from their jobs to respond to a search,” said Bridge, a retiree from Brunswick. “This is what I love to do. I can’t wait until one day, I find a kid wearing his garbage bag, with a whistle around his neck – safe – because of what I’d taught him.”
The two-hour workshop was sponsored by the Maine Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.
More information about MESARD can be found at mesard.org. For information on the “Lost!…But Found, Safe and Sound,” program, including how to purchase the video, visit anpr.org.
Heather Gunther can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.