The group of boys and girls listen intently. They’re engaged and ask questions while immersed in the exercise at hand. They’re listening as Marty Allred explains and shows them in detail the basics of tracking.

Huddled in a half circle in a desert area off Union Street Park in Benson on Friday, the youngsters are also learning survival skills in an exercise that mixes fun, learning and hands-on experience.

It’s the Benson Youth Tracking & Survival Safety Camp, and one of the more popular activities offered through the City of Benson’s Summer Recreation Program. And it’s a viable one, explains Allred, a Cochise County Sheriff’s Office deputy and a coordinator with the SO’s Search and Rescue Team, some of whom are also on hand with canine team members.

Allred and team members show them how to spot and follow tracks on the desert floor, determining direction of travel and whether animal or human. The boys and girls build a basic structure to keep protected from the elements in the event of a hiking or wilderness mishap.

While fun in nature, the campers are seemingly aware and hang on most every word while Allred informs them on what and what not to do.

“It’s important to always be prepared to stay longer than what you’re planning for,” Allred explains. Having extra food and water and keeping your wits about you can go a long way toward sustainment in an emergency situation, he tells them.

The hands-on part of the session are an immediate hit with the group of 12.

“It’s really fun,” said Devin Gintz, 10, of St. David. “This will definitely help me in life,” while offering an exuberant “Oh yeah” when asked if he’ll be back the following year. Makai Pralgo, 12, traveled from Dragoon for the camp. “I thought it was really cool,” he said. “Learning how to track and seeing the rescue dogs… that was cool.” Brandon Luu, 10, concurred. “I liked the tracking and getting to pet the dogs,” he said.

Skills and facts learned over the four-hour session could mean the difference in an emergency.

“It’s good. We’re teaching them initially the Hug a Tree Program which is what they should do if they get lost in the woods… of course they find a medium-sized tree, use it for shelter and stay put. We showed them that if you take a garbage bag and you tear a hole for your face, you can use it to cover you and keep you dry from the elements and it’ll also keep in your body heat, and we talked to them about taking enough water when on a hike.”

The learned skills are two-fold, Allred explained.

“If they go out hiking and they get lost somewhere, it helps us as search and rescue to be able to find them, and it helps them if they’re out there to be able to keep themselves surviving until we can find them.”

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