Naturalist Spotlight: Meghann Karsch

By Lucie Amundson- freelance writer

A cold, rainy day provided challenging conditions for fire starting. Fortunately, helpful campfire tips were being taught at the Jay Cooke State Park through their naturalist program. Even Naturalist Intern, Meghann Karsch, was concerned about getting ¬a blaze going in the wet conditions. However, not only did her smoldering pile become a respectable teepee fire, she was able to show families her tips during her four-hour “drop-in” event held in July.

The Base

Karsch’s successful technique starts with pre-planning. “It’s always good to think ahead and store some dry wood,” she said. This could mean stashing firewood under a plastic tarp or even the truck of your car. But if you’re not so organized, don’t worry. Birch bark is high in oil content and will light even if damp.

Before you worry about lighting anything, clear debris preferably from a fire ring or from a spot several feet away from other campsite items. Draw an asterisk with a stick a couple of inches deep into the dirt. Over the dirt design make a grate out of eight finger-sized sticks: four laid parallel to each other with the other four laid over them lengthwise. This will provide circulation to feed the fire.“Fires are claustrophobic and like air,” says Karsch.

Fire Starters

Add a tinder layer over the stick grate. This can be newspaper, thin slips of wood whittled from logs, or bits of birch bark. Next, lay increasingly larger pieces of kindling starting with small spindly branches to finger–sized wood.  These materials are easy to light and burn quickly. Light the fire from the bottom. As it catches, lean bigger pieces of kindling and wrist-sized branches around the fire teepee style.

As the flame increases, you can

begin leaning in larger fuel logs. 

“If it starts to snuff out the fire, just lean them out again to allow more air into the fire,” recommends Karsch.

Fire Styles

The teepee style of fire is good for cooking with a single pot, as the heat is concentrated in one area above the fire. For a larger bonfire, Karsch suggests the log cabin fire style. “It starts with a teepee fire. Then lay more fuel logs outside the teepee fire so it surrounds it like a square.” This makes for a larger fire that will give off more heat and light into an expanded area. 

No Match… No Problem

Three hundred years ago, Voyagers did not have matches but started fires with flint and steel. While people still can start fires this way, an easier way is drag a 9-volt battery over a steel wool scrubbing pad. “The sparks are immediate and you can add your tinder directly on top of the steel wool,” demonstrated Karsch. Because this combination ignites so easily, Karsch warned not to store a battery and steel together in an emergency kit. Keep the battery in a film canister or enclosed soap dish.

Park Rules

Minnesota State Parks require firewood for campfires to be purchased within their boundaries. Naturalists are concerned about invasive insects such as the Emerald Ash Bore and Gypsy Moth. Using only local wood protects the Parks from species that hitchhike in on firewood from other locations. 

“The policy protects these beautiful trees for everyone to enjoy,” says Karsch.

Naturalist Intern Profile

Meghann Karsch loves her summer job at Jay Cooke State Park. She is a student at St. Cloud University

studying ecology, field biology and wildlife management. 

“It’s been a good summer,” says Karsch who enjoys teaching the summer

programs. Attendance averages about 25 people a session, many being young families.  She feels fortunate to be in a park that offers so much to so many. “I love that there are 50 miles of trails here and something for everyone to enjoy from biking to views and just being on the river. There’s also a lot of history here with the

Voyageurs and all.”

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