COLUMBIA — Dots, hashmarks, dashed and undulated lines are key characters in the language of map reading.
At noon Saturday, 14 people gathered to learn this language at Lost in the Woods, an expedition hosted by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Kathryn DiFoxfire, a naturalist and park employee, taught those in attendance orienteering skills, including map-reading and the proper use of a compass, which is necessary to find your way around an unfamiliar course.
“All orienteering is recognizing landmarks out in the woods,” DiFoxfire said.
Attendees ranged in experience from those with military skills to school-age children with no orienteering experience. DiFoxfire spent an hour teaching the group various ways to identify hills, sinkholes, fences and other landmarks that would be welcome sights to disoriented hikers.
Using stackable blocks which represented the various levels of a hill or mountain, DiFoxfire explained how a map reveals land characteristics, such as slope and height.
Compass training followed as DiFoxfire taught the group about magnetic north and how to use a map and compass together to plot a course between two points.
“Lost doesn’t mean you don’t know how to get where you want to go,” she said. “Lost means you don’t know how to get back where you started.”
After the lesson, those gathered put their new skills to use. Two groups, one on a beginner’s trail and another on an intermediate course, journeyed with the goal of discovering markers set by DiFoxfire. These markers were plotted on maps to test their abilities and lead them back to their point of origin.
DiFoxfire’s course led through the wooded area near Devil’s Icebox and the natural rock bridge for which the park is named. The groups had to push through brush, navigate dry-stream beds and battle a number of spider webs in order to complete their task.
Brian and Catharyn Pilch brought their four children, ranging in age from 19 months to 10 years old, to the event.
“Even if they glean just a bit of information today, they have education mixed with running around outside like the crazy, wild animals they are,” Catharyn Pilch said.
The family’s second child, 8-year-old Samantha, is a student in Rose Cobb’s third grade class at Thayer Elementary in Fort Leonard Wood. Knowing that many of the students in her class have parents in the military and might not remain in Missouri, Cobb said she wants the students to enjoy the state while they’re here. To help them do so, she said she is trying to plan one event a month outside of school for students and their families. Cobb and her husband, George, were among those who traveled in the Pilch family’s group.
Lost in the Woods was created to equip visitors with skills they can bring back to the park on future trips. Although geocaching, a game that uses GPS to locate items strategically hidden by other geocachers, is gaining popularity in the park, DiFoxfire said orienteering requires less complicated equipment and utilizes similar skills.
Expeditions are free and open to the public.
Future orienteering events at the park include an orienteering meet and eco-hike hosted by the group Friends of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park on Oct. 14. Call 815-9255 to register.