Darrel Levingston, of Routt County Search and Rescue, demonstrates how a plastic bag with a hole cut in it can help if you get lost in the backcountry. Levingston was making a presentation to a class at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Monday aimed at young students and what to do if they get lost in the backcountry.

Photo by John F. Russell

Darrel Levingston, of Routt County Search and Rescue, demonstrates how a plastic bag with a hole cut in it can help if you get lost in the backcountry. Levingston was making a presentation to a class at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Monday aimed at young students and what to do if they get lost in the backcountry.

Steamboat students learn backcountry lessons from Search and Rescue

Elementary students learn how to be found if they’re lost

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Darrel Levingston, of Routt County Search and Rescue, talks to a class at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Monday. The presentation was aimed at young students and what to do if they get lost in the backcountry.

— Staying put is the most important thing children can do if they get lost in the wilderness.

That was the key message Routt County Search and Rescue’s Darrel Levingston told a group of first- through fifth-grade Strawberry Park Ele­mentary School Montessori students Monday during the annual “Hug a Tree” presentation.

The Search and Rescue presentation, which has been given to elementary school students in Steamboat Springs for the past 15 years, is intended to teach them skills to make it easier for rescuers to find them if they get lost or separated from their parents during a hiking or camping trip, Levingston said.

He hopes to present it to every child who attends Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary school in the next two weeks.

Children can walk two miles per hour, Levingston said. He said if they’re lost and start to wander, they can be miles farther away by the time rescuers are dispatched to look for them.

Levingston said it’s important to start teaching children what to do if they’re lost — and the lesson also applies to being lost at a Colorado Rockies game or a shopping mall. He said the key is repetition.

“We get one hour once a year with the kids,” he said. “We start in kindergarten, and we’ll be back every year. By the time they graduate elementary school, we hope they’ll see this program six times.”

During the presentation, Levingston explained that the children should wait by a medium-size tree, one that won’t attract lightning, and away from rivers that make it difficult for rescue dogs to detect scents.

While they wait, he said the children could lie on the ground or make a big “X” out of stones and tree limbs to make it easier for the Search and Rescue helicopter to find them.

Levingston advised the students to always have a whistle, to signal rescuers, and a trash bag to keep them dry and warm should they have to spend several hours or stay overnight in the woods.

He also suggested that children walk over a piece of aluminum foil to leave their shoe imprints, which could be left on the dashboard of the parents’ car. He said Search and Rescue trackers could use the shoe impressions to find lost children.

Karen Kutska, who teaches the first- through third-grade Montessori class, said she signs up each year to have the presentation given to her class.

“I think it’s huge,” she said. “Considering where we live and the lifestyles we have here, I think it’s important. Now that it’s spring, it’s good to get back into the mindset of hiking and being outside.”

Levingston said Search and Rescue receives about 80 calls a year, and about half are resolved by phone. He said few incidents involved lost children, and he hopes it’s because of Search and Rescue’s efforts in the schools.

Several students said they didn’t hear anything new. But they all recognized the importance of the presentation. Third-grader Rye Kirchner said he got lost recently on a hiking and climbing trip in Utah but was found because he stayed put.

Third-grader Parker Brown said he planned to teach his parents what he learned when he got home from school Monday.

“It’s important so they know, so they know all the skills if they get lost,” he said.

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