MERRILL — Fire-starting, lumberjacking, rock-climbing and orienteering: Students from St. Francis Middle School, Merrill, bulked up on their team-building and survival skills, Oct. 24-26, at an outdoor education retreat.

The two-night excursion took place at the Crescent Lake Bible Camp grounds in Rhinelander. Guides were from the Northern Lakes Impact Center, an organization that partners with camps to provide educational classes for campers.

The students were sponsored by St. Francis parishioners and the Merrill Knights of Columbus. Support for this project was also provided through the Beyond Crayons and Computers Program of the Merrill Area Community Foundation.

While at camp, middle school students learned about history, birds, ecology, wilderness survival and more, but they also prayed the rosary en route, attended Mass celebrated by their pastor, Fr. Chris Kemp, and worked on improving communication, teamwork and trust.

Kathy Kasper, middle school teacher at St. Francis, chaperoned the trip. Camp was a great opportunity for bonding, she said.

“Overall, I think camp was a great success,” added Lauren Cohrs, 11. “I think that it strengthened our bonds greatly, and I think it would be awesome if we could go again next year.”

“I knew going into camp that it was going to be fun,” said 12-year-old Isaiah Rell, “but I never could have expected it to be this awesome.”

Some students enjoyed learning about birds and history; others preferred the outdoor classes and activities.

“My favorite class was the survival class, because my cousin Ethan and I really like doing survival things like starting fires with whatever we can find,” said Aaron Arndt, 13.

Shayla Swan, 12, enjoyed the camaraderie: “My favorite part of this experience was the fact that I grew closer with people that I never really expected to be close with.”