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Saturday afternoon three adults and six middle schoolers took a short stroll on the new boardwalk trail at the Eagle River Recreation area. The adults stopped for a minute and five of the kids ran ahead out of sight. The kids were sure they knew the way. The adults were sure they were safe on the one-mile handicap-accessible loop trail.
When the kids did not return a half hour later, one adult stayed at each end of the loop while the third searched the trail. No kids. None of the kids were dressed for the near-freezing temperatures. None had flashlights in the waning light. After all, we were only going to be out of the car for a few minutes to look at a giant tree a short way down the wide boardwalk.
Boy Scout troop leaders and parents staying at the nearby Southeast Methodist camp joined the search with flashlights and shouts. The children's parents, Alaska State Troopers, Juneau Mountain Rescue and the Seadogs were called. Several frantic hours later the children were located several miles up the Eagle Glacier trail; cold, disoriented and frightened. Reunited with their distraught parents, the children shared how they had huddled in a tight circle to keep each other warm, prayed and sang to keep their spirits up.
This "drama in real life" unfolded even as the play "The Night the Forest Cried" was being performed at Northern Light United Church. Fortunately, unlike the play based on a true Juneau story, all the children arrived home safely. Lessons learned are many. Every hike in Alaska, no matter how short, needs to be planned and prepared for. When communication between adults and children is broken, the consequences are serious. Don't get so swept away by the momentum of a group that you stop thinking and speaking up for yourself. And finally, when we reach out to help each other, we stay warmer and more alive ourselves.
Heartfelt thanks to the scouts, leaders and parents of Troop 11, and Webelos troops 10 and 15, for the quick response of the state troopers, to the Juneau Mountain Rescue and Seadog teams who dropped everything in their own lives to rescue the children, and to Bunti Reed and caretakers at the Southeast Methodist Camp. We are fortunate to live in a community to have so many generous, talented and well-trained outdoor rescue people. We will show our appreciation by doing everything possible to avoid ever having to call upon them again.
Joy and Rich Lyon
parents of one of the kids