Treasure hunt in woods lures kids, ants

During the Depression, the federal government employed persons who desperately needed work and assigned them to projects in their hometowns. This Work Progress Administration plan provided workers to staff Columbia’s summer playgrounds. I was their supervisor. My assistant represented the public schools and showed little interest in recreational activities. I conducted staff training meetings every Monday morning, and leaders were on duty at the playgrounds from 1 p.m. until dark five days a week. I condensed a semester’s learning into three hours of training that first Monday and assigned two persons to each of four playgrounds.

The most helpful leader was Mrs. Rau, a gentle, motherly widow who operated a student boarding house except in the summer. Mrs. George was a middle-age redhead with a mind of her own and some workable ideas but no leadership experience. William O. Smith, with beautiful snow-white hair, rarely spoke above a whisper and was also low on pep and energy. A younger man wore muscle shirts displaying tattoos not meant for children’s viewing. Another fellow, clean-cut and friendly, was called out of the room by a policeman during a Monday training meeting; I never saw him again. Another Monday, a quiet, thin fellow was absent. No wonder — he committed suicide in public two nights before.

There were also others. I was poorly prepared to direct such a staff, but to my surprise the program went quite well. We decided that the children deserved a celebration at the end of the summer. Recalling it now, it seems impossible, but we did it! We had a treasure hunt in the woods on Dad’s dairy farm.

Grocers donated 16 1-pound packages of marshmallows for our treasure. I spent the entire day before the hunt laying four trails — two short, easy ones for young kids and two challenging ones for older kids. Four clues, in rhyme, directed each team toward the spot where the 16 pounds of marshmallows were to be hid.

On the morning of the hunt, I took four leaders to the farm to check the trails, lay wood for a bonfire and hide the marshmallows. We also hid wire coat hangers to use for marshmallow sticks and two of Dad’s hay forks on which we could toast a lot of marshmallows at one time. Mom was ready with paper cups and drinking water at the house. Mrs. Rau and Mrs. George would help the younger children, and the fellows would go with the older ones.

Three lumber companies each sent a truck to haul my WPA helpers and the children to the farm and back. The kids love that five-mile ride. Ninety-six excited youngsters, eager to hunt treasure in the woods, crowded around me to hear the rules. "You won’t need to wade in the creek or climb a tree or do anything dangerous. Your leader will help if you can’t find the clues." And I added, "Of course, the winning team will want to share the treasure with the losers. OK?" Approved! "Go find it!"

Then the woods came alive with the yelling and laughter of happy, sweating children. I stood in a central spot, holding a first-aid kit. Finally, the treasure was discovered.

However, a few hundred uninvited ants had discovered the marshmallows earlier, and some had invaded every bag! Mrs. Rau, Mrs. George, the older girls and I blew the ants off every single marshmallow. They were soon toasted and devoured.

I wouldn’t attempt an event like that again for love or money! But it was actually a wonderful experience for those city kids. And I didn’t even have to open the first-aid kit!

Click here to return to the index
Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.