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Learning on site: Bald Eagle park festival celebrates American Indian culture

Christian Swartwood gets assistance from Zach McCloskey, an environmental education specialist at Bald Eagle State Park, while throwing a spear using an atlatl during a Knap-In at the park on Friday.
Christian Swartwood gets assistance from Zach McCloskey, an environmental education specialist at Bald Eagle State Park, while throwing a spear using an atlatl during a Knap-In at the park on Friday. CDT photo

Donald Cobb took Onondaga stone fakes native to central New York and let them settle in a bucket of water.

He then took each out, one by one, and molded it with clear lacquer to preserve its natural color enhanced by the water.

Clothed only in a short leather American Indian flap skirt, moccasins and a feather headdress, the Waterloo, N.Y., native stood tall — chin up — with the look of a member of the Onondaga tribe near the Lamoka archaeological site of south-central New York from 1200.

Cobb spent most of the evening Friday educating guests about the use of arrowheads, stone flakes and spiles, and how they’re made by flint-knapping — a “clunking” technique used to make stone tools popular with American Indians some 5,000 years ago, he said.

He was one of nearly a dozen vendors from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast who set up a show tent at the annual Knap-In at Bald Eagle State Park.

The event is in its 16th year, but has been held at Bald Eagle State Park the past three, said Matt Truesdale, environmental education specialist at the park.

Bald Eagle State Park partnered with the Susquehanna Valley Flint Knappers Association to provide guests with interactive education on flint knapping and stone tool making along with demonstrations, displays, atlatl and archery ranges, and information about how American Indians lived years ago.

Truesdale said Bald Eagle State Park was once home to Chief Waupelani — Waupelani meaning “bald eagle,” after which the park is named.

“It gives people appreciation for how we live now and knowledge of how life was before us,” Truesdale said. “Flint knapping isn’t just something the Native Americans used. It’s a form used in all walks of life to make stone tools.”

At other stations around the beach area of the park, demonstrators were showing children, such as Steven Brand, how to use an atlatl, and bow and arrow.

“We learned some stuff like this in school, but it’s cool to use it,” Steven, 8, said.

The atlatl was used by the American Indians to throw a spear or javelin to fish or hunt for food, Truesdale said.

Other demonstrators were actually flint-knapping stone into arrowheads.

Marshall Rosengrant, of Greene, N.Y., took a large moose antler and knocked a small chunk of Arkansas novaculite rock out of a larger piece. With a smaller moose antler, he then carved the rock into a functional arrowhead.

It’s something that can be done in as quickly as five minutes, Rosengrant said.

Truesdale expects the two-day event to bring in 500 to 800 people and nearly a dozen vendors from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

The event will continue Saturday at the park’s beach area, and includes a horn smith who will perform live demonstrations — the same horn smith who made the powder horn Mel Gibson used in “ The Patriot,” Truesdale said.

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