Campers learn the skills of the ancient masons

MARFORT_0710_7943Jon Burpee, chief of interpretation for Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments, spoke to Historic City News editor Michael Gold about the success of this summer’s first annual “Hands-On-History” camp; an idea he experienced at other parks and was excited to introduce in St Augustine.

The day camps run from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. each day, averaging four teams of five students entering 5th and 6th grade (ages 9-11) and are undertaken by the Park Service without cost to the participants.

“Thanks to our volunteers, assistance from the 450th Youth Ambassadors, and Flagler College interns, even with a limited staff, we are able to offer a fun learning experience to about 60 or 70 students this summer without any cost to their parents,” Burpee explained. “Who knows, we might be teaching skills to a kid who grows up to come to work for the National Park Service — like I did, sixteen years ago.”

400-JON-BURPEE-UNIFORMBurpee has served in assignments for the National Park Service including diverse parks like Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Death Valley National Park and the Vancouver National Historic Reserve. He most recently served as the chief of interpretation at Fort Frederica National Monument in coastal Georgia. Throughout his career, he has also served in positions in parks ranging from Puerto Rico to Louisiana, Florida and Kentucky.

The topics covered by the camp include: Native Americans, Early Spanish Exploration, Masonry, Spanish Military and Artillery. Students will have the opportunity to work on projects such as pottery, leatherwork, cloth dyes, coquina, tabby, musket drills and more.

During our visit, reporters watched as the pre-teens carefully used the tool of the master masons who originally built the walls of the ancient fortress; tools that are still used today in restoration and daily maintenance tasks that insure future generations will be able to enjoy the national monument.

Protective glasses and gloves were distributed to the students before they broke into groups to apply what they had been shown how to do. Using a chisel, mallet and tools to control the direction in which the sample blocks would break, the campers formed working pieces of different sizes and shapes. Everyone had an opportunity to take a turn with their own blocks; some were excited to show their friends what they had made.

In addition to the various interactive portions of the camp, participants learn about the basic history of the National Park Service, soldiers’ lives at the fort, and the evolution of artillery.

“We let the word go out to the local schools first — and before we could get our press release out, we had more campers than we could handle,” Burpee told Historic City News. “I’m sure we’ll have a full house every summer, given the reception from the campers, their parents, and the community.”

The final week for the Hands-on-History camps will be August 5 – 9.

Photo credits: © 2013 Historic City News staff photographer

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