Routt County Search and Rescue team member Dave Hill speaks to a Strawberry Park Elementary School class Thursday, demonstrating on a stuffed bear how lost children should use a trash bag with a hole cut for their heads to stay dry and warm during a night in the woods.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Routt County Search and Rescue team member Dave Hill speaks to a Strawberry Park Elementary School class Thursday, demonstrating on a stuffed bear how lost children should use a trash bag with a hole cut for their heads to stay dry and warm during a night in the woods.

Local rescuers hope to avoid problems by teaching classes

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Outdoor safety tips

For children:

- When you realize you've become lost, stop. Don't run because you might fall and get hurt.

- Look around for a comfortable place. Snuggling up to a tree or other stationary objects calms you down and prevents panic. By staying in one place, you can be found quicker and avoid injury.

- Always carry a trash bag and whistle on a picnic, hike or camping trip. Making a hole in the bottom of the bag and putting it over your head can keep you warm and dry. The whistle can be heard much farther away than your voice.

- Your parents won't be angry with you. When found, a happy reunion filled with love is waiting.

For parents:

- Be sure your child is wearing brightly colored clothing or has a brightly colored scarf or other item whenever on a hike or going into the backcountry.

- Teach children to stay on the trail and close to you. Never let young children walk trails alone.

- "Footprinting" your child can reduce the time of a search by several hours. Have the child step, while wearing hiking shoes or boots, on a piece of aluminum foil placed on a soft surface such as carpeting or a folded towel. Label the print and keep it from being flattened. Trackers can use it to separate your child's track from many others in the area.

- When you notice your child is missing, call authorities immediately. Don't wait.

- After calling authorities, make sure you or another adult stays at the specified location to give detailed information to the first responder.

- A "scent article" is helpful for searches involving search dogs. The best scent articles are unwashed articles of clothing that have been immediately next to the child's skin.

- Source: Association of National Park Rangers

— The evidence that the "Lost and Found, Safe and Sound" program put on by Routt County Search and Rescue works doesn't exactly exist.

And that's a good thing.

Darrel Levingston, a 15-year veteran with Routt County Search and Rescue, doesn't recall a child ever following all the steps of the program, which is designed to help children lost in the woods be found. And in that, he said, is the evidence the program he and other volunteers are showcasing at area elementary schools really does work.

"We like to think because of what we've done, most of these kids have seen this program and that's helped them not to get lost," Levingston said. "They've learned to stop walking and stay put in a manner timely enough that their parents were able to find them, and we didn't have to get involved."

"Lost and Found, Safe and Sound" offers students personal advice and advice to pass along to their parents. The goal is to have children educated about how to aid rescuers and survive a day or night in the wilderness.

Program presenter and Search and Rescue volunteer Dave Hill had the full attention Thursday of Karen Kutska's class at Strawberry Park Elementary School.

First was a video, illustrating the basic points of the program through the story of a lost child.

If you get lost, don't run and try and find your way back to camp. Stay put.

Carry a whistle to summon help and wear bright clothing that is easily distinguishable from the surrounding foliage.

Don't be afraid of the area's wildlife, and pack a large trash bag with a hole for your head to help stay dry and warm through the night.

Program has evolved

Thursday's presentation then gave way to a short talk reviewing the video and the decisions of its main character. Hill added his own advice tailored for the Steamboat Springs area - stay away from tall, separated trees as they attract lighting and remember bears don't like to see you, either - and finally took questions from the class.

It's a program Levingston says has changed a lot throughout the years. The video replaced slides and a lecture and now is professionally produced. And Steamboat Springs-area presenters constantly are adding localized advice.

"It's changed pretty dramatically," Levingston said. "It was pretty dry and boring, but now the 10-minute video is slick and well-produced. We teach them all sorts of stuff now."

The lessons presented can go a long way toward helping rescuers, whether it's having a good copy of a child's footprint to provide searchers, or instructing a kid to "look big" so as to be easier to spot from a helicopter.

The most important rule, however, is to stay put. Kids can walk up to three miles an hour, Hill explained, inadvertently widening a search area by drastic proportions.

There are advantages and disadvantages for searchers in Routt County. They have access to airplanes and helicopters if needed and generally are a very mobile bunch.

"We have ATVs and snowmobiles to use up here," said Hill, who also was a part of the search and rescue team in Tuscon, Ariz., before moving to the Steamboat area four years ago. "The way the wilderness areas were set up down there was a lot different. We used the sheriff's posse, people on horseback and a lot of teams on foot. Here we still use the teams on foot. We occasionally use horses, but we're much more mechanized."

Adults get lost, too

All of the program's advice counts for adults as well, Hill said. He warned the Strawberry Park class not to hide from searchers. He issued the same warning to adults who find themselves the object of a search.

"It's been adults we've had more of a problem with. Many of them won't stay in one place, and they aren't prepared to be outside. They try and find their own way out because of their ego," he said. "We have more adults than kids hide from the crews. There's the perception that if found by Search and Rescue, you'll have to pay for the search, and that's not true.

"We've had people, where we've gone up and said 'Are you such and such?' They say 'no' but ask directions to the parking lot. There is no charge for searches in Colorado."

-To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253

or e-mail jreichenberger@steamboatpilot.com

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