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story.lead_photo.caption Soren Stapp, 10, pays attention to instructions on properly using a compass Saturday at Runge Nature Center's Kids for Conservation: Orienteering class. Photo by Ken Barnes / News Tribune.

A small group of local children spent part of the first weekend of 2021 learning how to navigate using a map and compass. They also put their skills to the test Saturday as part of an outdoor course at Runge Nature Center.

Austin Lambert is a naturalist at the center and took the children, who ranged in age from 7-12, around the center grounds and showed them how to put a barring into a compass, then follow the barring to a couple of spots on the grounds.

"It has real world importance," Lambert said. "I know I've done field work where my GPS quit working so I had to go back onto the compass to help me out. So if your phone with its GPS dies on you, having the compass and knowing how to read a map suddenly become very important. It may not be something we worry or think about in Jefferson City, but when you go into the Ozarks, having these skills should give you a little more comfort before you head out exploring."

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Fay Kipp, 7, of Jefferson City, was among the children taking the course. She said she knew a little about reading a compass by practicing with her dad.

"I once read a map, and it showed how to get to places here in town," Fay said. "It was fun, and I want to learn more."

Fay's mom, Juliet, said she takes her children to almost every program they could qualify for at the center.

"Runge is a great resource, and with so many things canceled because of the pandemic, it has limited us to what we can do," Juliet said.

Although the Runge Center is closed to indoor programs for the rest of the month due to the pandemic, Lambert said they will continue to offer small outdoor programs as long as possible. Saturday's program was limited to 10 children and eight signed up.

"That way, we can still take the precautions of social distancing and wearing masks," Lambert said. "At the end of the month, we plan to see how things are going and decide whether we'll re-open for indoor programs. People are still coming out for programs like this and our trails are getting every bit of use as they were in the past and probably more now as people want to get outside and experience nature."

Trails on the area remain open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. every day. Events at Runge Nature Center are free, thanks to the one-eighth of 1 percent conservation sales tax.

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