Sparking Curiosity in Arlington

Sparking Curiosity in Arlington

Workshop teaches fire-building for women.

Jessica Althaus and her first fire during a workshop at the Gulf Branch Nature Center and Park.

Jessica Althaus and her first fire during a workshop at the Gulf Branch Nature Center and Park. Photo by Catherine Frondorf


Gulf Branch Nature Center and Park conducted a “Women-Only Fire Building Workshop” on Saturday, Jan. 12, and supplied all the necessary materials – tinder, kindling, matches, newspapers and plenty of other flammable objects. A total of eight women attended the event, led by instructor Jennifer Soles, who is also a naturalist for Arlington County Parks.

The idea for the workshop sparked Soles when she taught a group of young students fire-starting techniques. She noticed that the boys immediately took initiative starting a fire and the girls were much more reluctant, which is something she wants to change. Soles said, “Girl Scouts don’t seem teach the same things as Boy Scouts and I’m not sure if that has to do with identity or gender-roles, but building a fire still seems to be much more of a ‘boy-thing’ than a ‘girl-thing’ and of course girls are just as capable.” Her own difficulty starting fires on backpacking trips also inspired her to take action and create the workshop and said, “regardless of where you are, it’s an important skill to have.”

Jessica Althaus, who became a first-time fire-starter at the workshop said, “My parents never taught me nature skills growing up and it’s not something you learn in schools. I wanted to take this opportunity to empower myself and now I will be able to teach my daughter how to do that too. Often, I tell my daughter to “go get dirty and play in the trees” because she had an unhappy Girl Scout experience “where we did nothing but sell cookies … we didn’t even go camping, so now I’m a big advocate of learning outdoor skills.”

Nadene Bradly discovered the event through the local catalog “The SNAG: Guide to Arlington County’s Nature and History Programs,” which provides both hardcopy and web subscriptions: Bradly said, “I never knew how to build a fire before this workshop and I can say it helped me a lot, now I feel confident enough to start one on my own — Jennifer explained everything really well.”

For more learning opportunities, Arlington County offers a list of workshops and events they update weekly on its website: and will also deliver the “Enjoy Arlington” class catalog to one’s home. However, Soles recommends visiting your local nature center as one way to fire up your adventurous side.