[L to R] Big Sky Community Organization Director Ciara Wolfe, Discovery Academy seventh grader Kjetil Hassman, Erika Pankow Scholarship board member Odie Loomis, Discovery Academy eighth-grader Nate McClain and Discovery Academy middle school teacher and mentor Chris Corona. 

Finding their way

Scholarship winners to bring orienteering course to Big Sky

The memory and tenacious spirit of Erika Pankow lives on through Big Sky Discovery Academy middle schoolers Nate McLain and Kjetil Hassman—The pair of outdoor-minded students are the latest recipients of the Erika Pankow Scholarship.

McClain and Hassman wrote a 500-word essay describing their goal to bring an orienteering course to Big Sky. Their words resounded with the members of the Erika Pankow Scholarship Foundation, and on Jan. 11 they were presented with a $350 to make it happen.

In their essay, they wrote, “Orienteering will inspire the community of Big Sky kids to get out into nature and explore the wonderful environment that we live in... We want to teach orienteering to the younger people in Big Sky, to educate them to be strong and confident in the outdoors.”

One might ask, what is orienteering? The unique sport, well-suited for the Big Sky area, is a navigational race or casual stroll often held in unfamiliar terrain. Orienteers use a map and compass to locate specified course markers. It’s basically a fun way for people of all ages to get some exercise while exploring new terrain and sharpening wilderness navigational skills.

With the scholarship start-up check in hand, McLain and Hassman have outlined three goals. First, to learn how to orienteer by designing a course with mentor leadership. Second, they’ll teach those skills to classmates and younger students. Finally, they’ll present their designed course to the Big Sky Community Organization.

“BSCO is looking forward to providing the opportunity for these students to have places and opportunities in our community park and trail system to teach individuals to learn and practice orienteering here in Big Sky,” said Ciara Wolfe, executive director of the BSCO.

On Dec. 25, 1996, while working her regular avalanche route, Big Sky ski patroller Erika Pankow was in an explosives accident that claimed her life. The event rocked and deeply saddened the community. Along with working on the patrol, Pankow spent much of her time volunteering with the Big Sky Search and Rescue and Gallatin Canyon Volunteer Fire Department.

Today Pankow’s tenacious spirit and dedication to emergency medical education is memorialized through the Erika Pankow Scholarship Fund, founded in 1996 through generous donations, sponsorships and fundraising events.

For more information, visit rikapankowscholarshipfund.org

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