Deschutes Land Trust, March 10, 2016
Outdoor School for All

By Brad Chalfant, Executive Director

The fall election is looming and with it comes the ubiquitous signature gatherers. The Land Trust is frequently asked to endorse ballot measures, and, as you may know, our response is almost invariably no. We don’t take public positions. However, once in a great while, a proposed ballot measure touches the heart of our work. That was the case when lottery funding for conservation was on the ballot several years ago, and it is once again the case with a proposed permanent funding source for Oregon’s Outdoor School programs.

Outdoor School is typically a week long, overnight science program for 5th and 6th grade students from across Oregon. It started in 1957 in Medford and in Prineville in 1958. The goal was and still is, to get kids outside learning real world science in Oregon’s forests, deserts and coastlands.

Unfortunately, funding for Outdoor School has been spotty and in decline. This means that students from wealthy districts often attend, while students from poorer districts typically don’t. The Outdoor School for All effort is intended to provide consistent and equitable funding across Oregon, so that local school districts can provide this learning experience in a manner appropriate to local communities.

The Land Trust’s Board of Directors recently considered a request to endorse Outdoor School for All and concluded this was an effort we could get behind. Why? Well, because we believe it’s essential to the long-term success of our work. Historically, Oregonians closely identified with our land, wildlife and natural resources, both for work and play. It was the hallmark of being an Oregonian and it helped bind us together. Today, fewer Oregonians are employed in traditional natural resource professions and younger generations are increasingly stuck behind a screen, be it a computer, television, video game or smart phone. The coming decades will bring growing numbers of new families to Oregon and Central Oregon, most with little exposure to the high desert, it’s rivers, forests, and wildlife. Lacking a commonly held connection to place, what will bind the next generation? How will they problem solve and, ultimately, how will they care for the land?

We believe that for Land Trust lands to remain truly protected forever, we need communities that are healthy, solidly rooted, and a next generation that understands our natural resources and how to care for them. We believe that Outdoor School for All can help us achieve this vision and lending our voice to this campaign means we’re working to craft our future.