It’s been awhile since Nevada students have gone to Springbrook Conservation Education Center in Guthrie County. But even so, news of its closing caused many former Nevada students and educators to reminisce about the trips Nevada Schools used to take.
Former student Gretta Reischauer shared the following about Springbrook: “Thanks to Mr. Toot, Dee, Mrs. O and all the other teachers, I found my calling in life. I thought it was so cool that the teachers at Springbrook basically got to play outside all day — what a job! I may not have ever become a naturalist, we may not have ever started Threshold Learning Center (an outdoor learning center in Zearing), and (we) would never have met the great kids, parents, teachers and supporters of TLC without my trip to Springbrook,” Reischauer wrote on the Nevada Journal Facebook page. She added, “I worry about the right-brainers and creative thinkers who aren’t being reached in a typical classroom. An outdoor setting and outdoor field trips are much more than ‘a day off.’ All of us in my profession are saddened by Springbrook’s closing.”
The Springbrook Conservation Education Center (CEC) closed March 13 and in doing so, discontinued educational programming at the facility. The closing was part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) effort to streamline its state parks operations.
In a release, found on the Iowa DNR website, Todd Coffelt, Iowa DNR State Parks bureau chief, said the following: “The decision to close the education center was a very difficult one, but ultimately we feel it is the correct one. We are confident that with the daytime activities in our state parks, the other DNR education programs and the outstanding education outreach efforts of our county conservation boards and other conservation education partners, both public and private, we can fill the void left by this decision and meet the needs of our schools and public.“
Springbrook Conservation Education Center was built in 1969 to train Iowa teachers in outdoor programming. Those teachers could then offer the curricula to their students. Over the years, the education center evolved to host more day-use programs, with hands-on environmental education activities. During the last decade, school participation at the education center had declined, officials say, and today, less than half of the groups using the facility are schools.
Nevada students haven’t stayed all night at Springbrook for more than 15 years, according to Nevada Middle School Principal Chris Schmidt.
“The sixth grade used to go for the overnight, and I believe the teachers delivered much of the curriculum with support from Springbrook,” Schmidt said. “Because Springbrook had a limit on the number who could go at one time, we were going in two groups.” Cost and trouble finding enough adults who were able to do the overnight caused the trip to be discontinued.
For the last six to eight years, Nevada’s seventh-graders have done an overnight trip to the Y Camp in Boone, which is centered on team building, environmental science and survival skills, Schmidt said. “Y camp is a tremendous experience for kids, but the cost continues to creep up, too,” she said.
Reading through comments and hearing the “oh no” expressed by so many who remember the beauty of Springbrook and all it offered, show that what the outdoor learning center did had an impact on many lives, and it was one of the treasures in the state that will be missed.
“It was one of the most memorable field trips taken while attending middle school in Nevada,” wrote former Nevada student Joel Kiertzner on the Journal Facebook page. “I believe it was when I was in fifth grade (that) Mr. Toot was the class I was in then. We learned a lot about the things that could be found there in nature… I remember a nature walk and some people who worked there giving some speeches and demonstrations. It is too bad they have to close this down because I am sure it could be used as a big learning experience for children, or even older people.”
The Iowa DNR said that Springbrook State Park, adjacent to the CEC, will remain open and daytime educational programs will be offered there. CEC staff will be used to develop and coordinate these programs at the park and to further educational programming within the State Parks Bureau.