Environmental Happenings In Oregon

Outdoor school is a rite of passage for Crook County sixth graders, who spend five days in fellowship with nature and their new camp ‘family.’

It’s a five mile hike around gorgeous Suttle Lake in central Oregon—quite a trek for the sixth graders from the Crook County School District.

But it’s all fun at outdoor school. With Bingo cards in hand, the students chart different plan species they find. They spot a bald eagle, then another, and a dramatic chase plays out before them. Even a rotten log comes to life with a careful eye.

For 57 years, the Crook County outdoor school has returned to this same location, the Suttle Lake Camp, to engage about 200 sixth graders in a five-day adventure they’ll never forget. Camp life is packed from morning to night with field studies, a ropes course, campfires, skits, and songs. There’s really no time to miss mom, dad, or your cell phone. 

At nearby Lake Creek, where native salmon are making a comeback, the students capture invertebrates in nets to gauge the health of the stream. Later they bring graphs, charts, and drawings back to their science classes and compare data to previous years.

The students become foresters for a day at Jack Creek, taking core samples of trees and following a GPS course around the forest. They also study plants right around camp, learning the difference between native, invasive, edible, and medicinal species. They even count bats for the U.S. Forest Service.

Three times a day, they sit down to a family-style meal and talk about the day—something many kids say they don’t do very often at home.

"We create a sense of family while we're there,” says Lori Meadows, Crook County Outdoor School Director. Meadows has 27 years of outdoor school under her belt, and is herself a sixth grade language arts teacher. 

In fact, the Crook County Outdoor school is entirely directed, taught, and run by the district’s sixth grade teachers, making their curriculum seamless when they get back to the classroom. They also recruit about 50 high schoolers each year—many of whom attended the same outdoor school as sixth graders— to be camp councilors.

Meadows says her community has taken an economic hit lately, making outdoor school more difficult to afford for families and the district. Grants from the Gray Family Foundation have helped offset the cost of tuition, provide scholarships, and ensure that every sixth grader who wants to can go.

"We would have never been able to do it without the Gray Family," she says.



From Removal To Restoration - Invasive species activities should include the restoration of native habitat

The connected article provides an overview of a restoration project that extends activities past rehabilitation to include long-term monitoring, continued stewardship and community support. The restoration site at Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon was originally an English ivy desert, covered entirely with Hedera helix. Eighth grade students and two teachers, aided by the district’s facilities personnel, removed the ivy and root stock, added commercial top soil, planted native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants with a follow-up planting in the spring. The restored area, laid out with a clear scientific design, creates an outdoor field laboratory. This long-term experiment facilitates student understanding of scientific methodology and ecological concepts. Furthermore, the outdoor laboratory permits ongoing monitoring where forthcoming science classes add to a long-term dataset so children may analyze change at the site over time. 

One of the Oregon Coast’s most beloved summer camps gets a facelift, ensuring many more summers of life-changing adventures.

Camp Kiwanilong is a place where kids still jump into lakes, take archery lessons, sing around the campfire and come home with nicknames like “Roadrunner” and “Quack.”

Summer after summer, kids return to “Camp K” to experience adventure, friendship and a strong sense of belonging—all in a rustic, natural setting. 

Located southwest of Astoria, Camp Kuwonilong is nestled on 270 acres between Long Lake and a wooded area bordering the mighty Pacific Ocean.

During the summer, it hosts about 100 campers each week aged 7 to 14. Some groups have been coming for nearly 40 years, including OMSI and Wilson Elementary School in Corvallis.

While its Depression-era buildings add to the camp’s rustic charm, many of those structures were in need of serious repair. With funding from the Gray Family Foundation in 2014, the beloved old camp was given a facelift.

"The Gray Family Foundation grant just came at a marvelous time,” says Camp Kuwonilong Board Member Marge Huddleston. “We had a long list of things we need to do, but we were so far behind."

With a lot of hard work this year, Camp K is looking better than ever. Two gorgeous new double doors greet visitors to the camp's central gathering place, Boyington Lodge. The lodge's1936 brick fireplace was fitted with a wooden insert to ensure many more safe nights telling stories around the fire. And the lodge's windows and screens were replaced.

"Good by mosquitos and smoke!" Huddleston says of the lodge improvements.

Grant funding also allowed the camp to repair a compromised building used for food storage, refurbish three cabin foundations and get new bunk beds, among other upgrades.

"They're in really excellent shape now," Huddleston says. 

Not afraid of hard work, Huddleston and the rest of Camp Kiwanilong's volunteer board leveraged the Gray Family's matching funds to nearly double the gift—raising about $60,000 in all to complete needed repairs by fall 2014. 





Teachers as Watershed Students

With the help of a kick net, teachers Gerhard Behrens and Susan Reeves sampled Wells Creek for aquatic invertebrates as part of a 4 day “Watershed Teacher Workshop,” put on by Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) and Marys River Watershed Council with funding by Gray Family Foundation.

“I felt like a student and an honored teacher during the week.  We were challenged to learn new things, just as we challenge our own students,” said Mr. Behrens. 

16 teaches from the Corvallis School District and nearby rural schools, conducted macro invertebrate and stream health sampling from small order, Wells Creek on up to larger streams such as Greasy Creek, Marys River and culminating with a kayak trip on the Willamette. 

A special session was held at Bald Hill Farm Conservation Area (BHFCA) where Elizabeth Records, Greenbelt Land Trust Stewardship Specialist, talked about the history of the area and current conservation management practices.  Mike Ridling, owner of Seven Oaks Native Nursery, led teachers through steps of sowing native seeds and potting up plant cuttings.  “Many schools have small greenhouses on site and teachers have an interest in growing their own native plants,” commented Larkin Gunther, IAE Ecological Education Coordinator. 

Teachers trooped through Mulkey Creek as Renee O’Neill, OSU StreamWebs coordinator, had participants stretch out a 100 meter tape as they collected riparian data on plant species near the stream.  Later teachers input their data into a StreamWebs data platform that they can then share with their schools. 

A highlight of the workshop was kayaking the Willamette River led by Cascadia Expeditions.  Many people had never kayaked before and were a bit nervous at first.  Soon all river goers were smoothly paddling the river observing both natural and man influenced features of the Willamette.  Retired teacher, Jeff Mitchell met the flotilla down river where he had teachers locate freshwater muscles.  “Many freshwater muscle populations are declining and students can collect data to help scientist find out what is going on,” said Mr. Mitchell. 

Stacy Moore, IAE Ecological Education Program Director, said the goal of the workshop was to help participants develop skills and confidence in teaching outdoor learning with their classes.  Stacey Zaback, 4th grade teacher, loved getting her feet wet over the 4 days. “Maxfield Creek is located next to Kings Valley Charter School and now I feel more comfortable taking my students into the water to conduct regular stream studies. I hope to instill a sense of awe and respect for the natural world around them.”


From Kindergarten, Butte Creek Elementary students have their eyes set on sixth grade outdoor school at the Oregon Coast—but they need a little help getting there

A close encounter with a seal thrilled sixth-graders from Silverton, Oregon, during a recent trip to Outdoor School. Some of them had never even been to the beach before!

Butte Creek Elementary is a rural school located outside of Silverton, Oregon. Each year, the school sends their sixth graders to Camp Westwind just north of Lincoln City. With sea caves, incredible vistas, and an estuary of the Salmon River, it’s no wonder the school has returned to this site year after year.

At camp, hands-on is an understatement. Students dig for mole crabs and dissect squids. They catch invertebrates in nets and study the health of the estuary. They test water quality, sing songs about the water cycle, and play games to identify plants. Each of the four days is packed with movement, exploration, and fun, in small groups led by teachers.

Trained high school councilors also help guide the kids on what might be their first time away from home and their parents.

"A lot of kids come back as councilors,” says Terry Woodall, a teacher and 12-year veteran of outdoor school. "It’s really neat to see some of our old kids that come back.”

From Kindergarden, Butte Creek students’ eyes are on outdoor school. That’s when they begin fundraising with a walk- and jog-a-thon.

“The kids get excited about going young,” Woodall says. “But even when we do a lot of fundraising, it’s pretty rare that the class has it all covered."

It costs more than $200 to send each Butte Creek student to Camp Westwind. Funding from the Gray Family Foundation helped the school offset the costs of tuition and transporting kids to the beach. This helped ensure that each student—no matter their background—has access to the wild, immersive experience of outdoor school.