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HARBOR SPRINGS – Of all the possibilities that could’ve given anxiety to six Harbor Springs elementary school girls during an overnight summer fly fishing trip to a remote island in the middle of Lake Michigan, they all agreed on one thing.
“The small plane that we took over for sure!” said Parker Ford, now a 7th grader at Harbor Springs Middle School.
“Well, actually Mrs. Kloss’ driving that small, rusty old bus!” laughed Joanie Baughman, also now a 7th grader. That prompted more laughs, and more private jokes.
Listening to this group of girls recall their June 2023 Adventure Club trip is a reminder of how deeply a special and unique experience can bond and impact young people – which is a big part of the mission of the Harbor Springs Adventure Club for 2nd through 5th graders.
Led by Nathan Fairbanks, Blackbird Elementary School Principal, and Maggie Kloss, Intervention Specialist for Harbor’s elementaries, the Adventure Club took its biggest adventure yet last summer when six 3rd through 6th grade girls, plus Fairbanks, Kloss, and two parents, took a journey to Beaver Island and Garden Island for an overnight, two-day fly-fishing excursion. Superintendent of Beaver Island Community School and avid fisherman/outdoorsman Wil Cwikiel joined and helped guide the trip as well.
Along with Joanie and Parker, mentioned above, the other girls on the trip (and current grade levels) were Emme Plackemeier, 7th, Natalie Shelton, 4th, Aliyana Boughner, 6th grade, and Marlayna Myllyoja, also in 6th grade.
“Nathan and I had talked about doing a trip like this for years, it was our dream. But we got set back with COVID a few years ago,” said Kloss. “This past spring, we knew we had the right girls and it was the right time to do it. They are all leaders.”
“These girls have been with us for a while,” added Fairbanks, “and we knew they could handle a trip as big as we were planning.”
Recently, the girls met in the library of the middle school to reminisce about the trip and to help promote an upcoming screening of a short film created from it, Ripple: Casting for Change. Ripple will be released at 7 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2023, at the Lyric Theater in Harbor Springs. It details the story of this unique group and their girls-only excursion. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children, with proceeds benefiting Adventure Club activities and equipment needs.
On June 21-22, 2023, the girls and adults flew over to Beaver Island via Island Airways, which operates out of Charlevoix Airport. The planes, as previously mentioned, are fairly small, seating about a dozen passengers.
Once they got to the island, the group boarded an older, small bus, also previously mentioned, that is made available by the school district for these types of jaunts. They checked into their hotel to drop overnight bags and then headed out fishing for the day to Garden Island. To get there, they first boarded a charter boat and then transferred to small skiffs that brought the students, adults, and the fishing gear – rods, flies, waders, boots – for a day on the water. On the second day, the girls and adults took kayaks out on a smaller inland Beaver Island lake to fish for blue gill, before heading back to the mainland and wrapping up the trip.
During their adventures on and around Beaver and Garden Islands, videographer John Curtis with NM Lifestyle, followed along with his camera with the intent of creating a video about the experience. The footage captured became more than a simple video of memories; it turned into a 30-minute documentary, “Ripple: Casting for Change.” Beautifully compiled, the film is an ode to the power of girls and their ability to rise to any challenge, the unique aspects of Adventure Club and its reach into young lives, and a stunning look at the beauty of Northern Michigan.
While the 10-year-old Adventure Club is open to boys and girls, this adventure was for girls only, intentionally.
“This was never about the fish,” said Fairbanks. “It’s about having a support system, a peer group to share adventures with. Voices to lift you up and encourage you. It’s about believing, belonging and being invited to participate. Young women are strong, capable, and worthy of the same opportunities as everyone else.”
When asked if the experience would’ve been the same if there had been boys included on the trip, the answer was a resounding “No.”
“We wouldn’t have been able to interact with each other so much if the boys would’ve been there,” said Natalie.
“There’d be a lot of pressure to have to catch bigger fish,” added Joanie.
“They probably would’ve been running around and not getting things done,” said Emme. “We were able to learn about each other and make closer friendships.”
Parker simply stated: “We wanted to prove that girls can do anything that boys can do.”
Those sentiments inspired the naming of the film. During the recording of their voiceovers, Kloss and Fairbanks brainstormed about what to call the piece, landing on “Ripple” because of the expanding effects this experience will have on the girls and their community as they grow their leadership skills.
“We thought, ‘What kind of effect will this group of girls have?’ We know it will ripple out into the community and the greater area,” said Kloss. “And then we had our name.”
All of the girls but Natalie have now aged out of Adventure Club, which is open to 2nd through 5th graders. The older girls are now junior guides for younger girls who join the club.
In the film, one of Emme’s comments captures the intent of the club and the trip best: “I think it’s really cool that young girls are getting a chance to do things they usually wouldn’t be able to do if it weren’t for the club, because they’re given opportunities they normally wouldn’t have.”
About Adventure Club
Nathan Fairbanks and a former teacher started the Adventure Club 10 years ago with a group of boys who weren’t involved in extracurriculars and needed extra guidance. As a passionate outdoorsman, the club’s focus was on outdoor activities. The following year, a group of girls approached Maggie Kloss and asked why there wasn’t a girls’ Adventure Club. “I said, ‘That’s going to change!’” Kloss recalled. “And we added the girls’ group to the boys.”
Open to 2nd through 5th graders at Harbor Springs’ elementary schools, the club typically has 10 to 15 members – kids who are passionate about the outdoors as well as kids who want to try something new.
Kloss said activities depend on the year and interests of the kids. One year, a group of students was really interested in archery, so that was a main focus. The last few years, the kids have been passionate about ice fishing, so trips have centered around that activity.
The club is funded by grants and private donors, which help pay for outings and for students to bring equipment home at the end of the season, which encourages them to keep participating in activities, Kloss said.
The six girls shared various reasons for joining Adventure Club, which they hope will encourage others to take part, too:
“I wasn’t involved in other activities, and I thought, ‘If I know somebody who is in it, I’ll do it,’” said Aliyana, seated next to her best friend, Marlayna, who was in the club. The two have grown so close, Kloss said, they are often referred to together as “Marlyana.”
Marlayna joined the club because she loves to be outdoors, and she wasn’t involved in other school sports. “I love fishing and all kinds of outdoor activities,” she said.
For Joanie, joining the club also was a way to spend even more time outdoors. “I really like to fish and be outside. I didn’t think there were many other opportunities to do these things, and this was finally a way that was organized.”
Similar to “Marlyana” mentioned above, Parker joined the club because her friend, Emme, was already involved: “Emme said it was really fun. I love swimming and playing soccer, and joined to have another activity.”
Emme was inspired to join the club after her older brother took part and enjoyed it. “I like to do things outside and the club has all the equipment to do the things I enjoy outdoors,” she said.