Weekend on the River
WHO: Anyone interested in learning river-related subsistence and craft skills at a rustic Tanana River camp. The program is open to people ages 8 and up. 18 and under must be accompanied by adult co-learner.
WHAT: Want to spend some quality time with your family and friends learning new skills in a beautiful wild setting that is still close to town? Part class, part vacation, the Folk School’s Weekend on the River offers a long weekend retreat at a Tanana River fish camp and homestead 30 miles downstream of Fairbanks. Your adventure begins on Friday afternoon when you hike or paddle to camp. Pitch a tent and enjoy home-cooked meals with friends and family around a fire.
Together we’ll learn about the river’s wealth of fish by cutting, drying, cooking, and making art/craft with them. We’ll gather raw natural materials like willow and spruce and transform them into practical items. There will be time set aside each day to explore beyond camp, gathering wild edibles and building materials, tracking animals, and enjoying the setting. At night we’ll cook on fires, relax, and enjoy evening programs.
WHERE: Camp is located at Jenna and David Jonas’ property on the Tanana River between Fairbanks and Nenana. This property can be accessed from a 2-mile hiking trail from the Nenana Ridge State Forest Road or by boating along the river from Fairbanks. It is about an hour drive or a day’s float from Fairbanks. The Nenana Ridge State Forest Road is a logging road and in the summer may be very bumpy and dusty. We recommend 4-wheel drive. We will work with participants to aid in bringing in supplies, but please plan on packing on the light side.
WHEN: Stay tuned for future sessions of Weekend on the River.
LOGISTICS: Participants are responsible for supplying their own camping gear and snacks. We will provide meals, tools, instruction, water, and outhouses.
Adult learner (over 18): $250
Youth (under 18) co-learner : $200
Limited need-based financial assistance is available! Contact Jenna Jonas at email@example.com.
The Classroom: “Tanana” means trail river. It is the main drainage of our watershed, and the biggest tributary of the Yukon, capturing the Chena, Delta, Salcha, Tolovana, Kantishna, Nenana, and many other rivers and streams. It is a rich place, supporting an array of wildlife such as moose, beaver, river otters, rabbits, mink, marten, wolves, coyotes, foxes, bears and more. It is a major migratory corridor for birds as well, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, bohemian waxwings, magpies, songbirds and more. Of course, it is full of all kinds of fish such as whitefish, pike, burbot, suckers, coho (silver), chum (dog), and chinook (king) salmon, and more. The banks, bluffs, and adjacent areas are covered by everything from birch forest to black spruce bog, willow bars to alder thickets. Berry pickers can find blueberries, raspberries, nangoonberries, cloudberries, lowbush cranberries, highbush cranberries, juniper and even Saskatoon. In the summer the river’s gravel bars and gentle breezes provide relief from mosquitos. The Tanana is a dynamic and exciting classroom.
Getting to Camp: The remoteness of this camp is part of what makes a Week on the River special. The journey into camp, whether by foot or boat should be seen as a transition time.
By Boat: You have the option this year of paddling or driving/hiking to Week on the River. We will not be offering a guided paddle so you will need to be self-sufficient and experienced if you choose to canoe down to the camp. We will supply directions and GPS coordinates to assist you in finding the site and may be able to help carry some heavy items along. Paddling from Fairbanks it is about 30 miles and can take anywhere from 5-12 hours. Winds may be an issue, so plan for extra time. If you want to paddle in, we recommend leaving the day before the program starts and camping 20 miles or so from Fairbanks, around Whiskey Island area. You can make the rest of the way to our place on the first day of the program, arriving around 2pm when the hikers will be getting in. If you are fast paddlers, you can probably make it the whole way on the first day of the camp. At the end of the week paddlers can either hop back on the water and go to Nenana where extraction is easy or they may paddle 2.5 miles downstream and get picked up at a campsite at the end of the Nenana Ridge State Forest road (assuming the road is passable) the last ¾ of a mile of that road is extremely bumpy and may require you to carry your gear. David and Jenna paddle this route frequently and are happy to answer any questions you might have.
By Car: If you would prefer to drive to the camp, you can do so by taking the Parks Highway towards Anchorage and turning left on the Nenana Ridge Road. This is a logging road located across from Skinny Dick’s. Drive down the logging road 5 miles and meet us at a pullout on the right side of the road. Please observe the rules of the logging road, drive slowly and cautiously with your lights on and defer right of way to loggers. The road can be very dusty in the summer and is unpaved. Weekend on the River staff will meet you there and guide the walk in. We will arrange to have a boat shuttle some gear into camp but you should plan on being able to carry as much as possible of your own gear in backpacks. The trail in is two miles long. It starts with a brief steep uphill but the rest of it is a gradual downhill. The trail is narrow and not open to motorized vehicles. On the last day we will leave at 4pm to head up the hill and hopefully get you back to Fairbanks by dinnertime. If you would like to participate in the program, but are concerned about access, please contact Jenna.firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss other options.
Camp: We will be camping together on a large willow bar along the river. Participants will set up their individual tents at a comfortable distance in locations of their choosing around the main camp. We ask that you not take any food or scented items with you to your individual tents but rather leave them in a designated location in main camp. Main camp will include a large arbor structure with tables for cooking and an open fire hearth. Camp includes an outhouse with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, fire pit, kitchen area, trash and recycling, etc. The “fish camp” consists of two fish cutting tables, a large fish house and small smoker made during the 2014 program. Cooking and Food – We will cook all of our meals together. We are able to accommodate most food allergies with enough advanced notice. We will split into cooking teams and take turns preparing and cleaning up after meals. Please bring your own bowls, cup, and utensils. We will prepare food over a propane stove and over a fire.
Fish: Fishing will be accomplished with gill nets, a fyke net (fish trap), and set lines. Fishing techniques vary based on the season and fish health. Please note that this is not a good location for traditional hook and line or fly fishing. If you want to fish with a pole we recommend paddling down and stopping at clear water tributaries. Participants who want to fish will need to bring a State of Alaska sport fishing license and personal use fishing permit (free) for Tanana River 6B. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/
Activities: At Week on the River we offer a wide range of activities potentially including:
- Fishing with nets, fyke net, set lines and tin cans
- Canoeing and lining instruction
- Knife sharpening
- Knot tying
- Making friction fires
- Fish cutting- lots and lots of ways
- Animal tracking
- Harvesting wild edible plants
- Net mending and making
- Willow and birch bark basketry
- Making wooden canoe paddles
- Creating fish prints
- Making primitive fishing lures with antler
- Making tin can fishing reels and practicing using them with a derby competition
- Constructing a mud oven
- Making caviar and other treats from wild foods
- Making dream catchers
- Tanning fish skins
- Carving spoons, bowls, and more
- Primitive pottery
Technology: Cell phones will probably have very limited coverage at camp. We ask that they not be used in main camp as for many of us, this is a chance to take a much-needed break from some of our technology. As we say with the Week in the Woods program, “camping in the forest allows the energy of our everyday, technology-filled lives to be replaced by the more peaceful energy of the woods,” and in this case, river. If you need to communicate, please do this from your personal tent area or somewhere out of main camp. Cameras are welcome.
Co-Learners: Week on the River (WOTR) is a program designed to incorporate various ages and abilities. We value the interaction between youth and adults in the learning process and have built our co-learner program around this concept. However, WOTR is not a dedicated youth camp. Young people 18 years old and younger must be accompanied by adults who are not only responsible for them, but who plan to learn along with them. (Teenagers, age 16-18, won’t necessarily have to work with their adult co-learner on projects). Our instructors are skilled craftsmen and encouraging teachers, but they do not provide the discipline and undivided attention often necessary to help youth carry out their plans. Adults are ultimately responsible for the progress of their youth co-learner’s activities.
David Jonas, Co-Program Director, Instructor, River Guide, and Fish Slime Coordinator:
David grew up on the Ottauquechee River in Vermont. He learned to canoe as a camper at Farm and Wilderness Summer Camp where he later worked as a counselor, leading canoe and backpacking trips. At age 23, he built a birchbark canoe and paddled it 350 miles from Southern Vermont to Northern Quebec. He spent three years honing his bushcraft skills and paddling at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School in Northern Wisconsin. In 2004 he spent five months in Northern Ontario living in the bush with a friend, eating a wild food diet, traveling by canoe, and falling in love with the North Country. The following spring he moved to Eagle, Alaska and was introduced to the wonders of wild salmon. He lived and traveled on the Yukon River for four years, working as a fisheries technician at the Pilot Station in the summer and establishing a remote trapline with a small dog team in the winter. In 2012, he purchased 22 acres on the Tanana River between Fairbanks and Nenana and has been building a homestead there ever since. He teaches classes for the Folk School and was an instructor at Week in the Woods is 2013. David claims that Week on the River was his idea, but in fact it occurred to a bunch of people and he is excited to give it a try.
Jenna Jonas, Co-Program Director, Instructor, River Guide, and Main Wrangler:
Jenna grew up in the Great Lakes State of Michigan kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, and paddling anything she could get her hands on, including, once, a bucket. Her father built custom windsurfers and wooden and skin-on-frame kayaks and she helped him build her first boat, a stitch and glue plywood kayak at age ten. She came to Alaska in 2009 and began exploring. Her fishing education started in earnest on the Tanana when she met David Jonas and got suckered into helping him fish to support his dog team. She currently works for the Tanana Valley Watershed Association. In 2013 she was an instructor at Week in the Woods and also serves as the vice president of the Folk School board of directors.
John Manthei, Instructor, Captain of the Magpie:
I’ve been in love with water since I was a very young child. Much of this I attribute to my father and his love of fishing and his willingness to take me along even when I was too small to “sit still and stop scaring the fish”. I still love water and just about everything associated with it. Over the past 40 years I have spent countless joyful hours exploring, hunting, fishing and gathering along the Tanana River and it’s tributaries. I can’t imagine a summer without a river and a self made boat to float on it. I can’t imagine a river without mud, sun, wind, a dramatic big sky, solitude and fresh fish.
Sara Hensel, Instructor:
Sara moved to Fairbanks from Portland, Oregon. Though she plans to concentrate on ceramics in the BFA program at UAF, her passions span across most media. She can usually be found prototyping design concepts for willow baskets, playing guitar, or doodling on any scrap of paper that she comes across.
Christin Anderson, Instructor:
Christin is an early career mycologist, trained in taxonomy by Dr. Gary Laursen. She earned a master’s degree from UAF in 2016 after completing an experiment on pollution degradation with oyster mushroom mycelium. She currently lives in Anchorage and works for the National Park Service. Her favorite outdoor activity is mushrooming.
What to bring:
- Canoe Gear (if you are boating to camp) – boat, paddles, lifejackets, drybags, safety equipment.
- Life jackets – mandatory for everyone at all times when on or in the water. We have some adult life jackets but need you to bring kid-sized ones for your kids.
- Camping Gear – a bug and rain-proof tent, sleeping pad and summer weight bag, an extra tarp is recommended.
- Clothing – Comfortable, durable summer clothing that can get dirty and some warmer layers (fleece, hat etc) for the evening. Swimsuit if you want for bathing and cooling off.
- Bug layers – While we hope its not buggy, it is Alaska in the summer, so be prepared- bug shirts, smudges, bug dope, whatever works for you.
- Sun layers – Sun hat, sunglasses, and sunblock recommended.
- Rain layers – Be prepared, we’ll be having fun rain or shine so be sure to bring something to wear in the rain, this also works well for cutting slimy fish.
- Footwear – The Tanana has some prickly rose thorns- bring sturdy hiking-style boots and rubber boots for fishing and boating. Some people like camp shoes as well.
- Knife – A good cutting/carving knife in a safe sheath is a great friend at fish camp. If you have specialized fish cutting knifes such as a tlabaas (ulu) or fillet knife, bring that as well! We will have basic tools for all of our activities and sharpening stones available.
- Permits – Anyone who wants to participate in fishing activities needs to have a State of Alaska Sport Fishing license and personal use fishing permit for Tanana River 6B (one per family). http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/
- Personal Items – Biodegradable soap, personal toilet paper, toothbrush and paste, bandana, journal camera, binoculars, etc.
- Camp Chair – Camp chairs have become an institution at our sister program, Week in the Woods. They are optional at Week in the River and you can certainly make one out of a stump or boughs, but some people really appreciate a chair.
- Eating Gear – bowls, cup, and utensils.
- Snacks – We will cook meals together but we recommend that you bring some small snacks for in between meals.
- Water – We will be settling and filtering river water as a group, but please bring your own water bottle and drinking cup.
- First Aid – We will have a large and well-stocked first aid kit at camp but please bring any personal medications/inhalers/epi pens that you might need. We will ask all participants to fill out a brief medical form to alert us of any conditions that may apply.
- Safety Equipment – We will have a gun in the extremely unlikely case of bears in camp. If you have other bear deterrents such as a bear spray, bring that as well.
Registration information will be posted here early in the year before the next Weekend on the River!