The New Jersey School of Conservation welcomed the six graders from Mullica and Folsom Township Schools for yet another outdoor education experience filled with environmental lessons and activities. Early this past November the students arrived on the Montclair State University field station in the heart of Stokes State Forest and were met by the first true cold front of the fall. The blustery weather couldn’t keep the fervent sixth graders from embracing the forest around them and using the campus setting to learn about the natural environment in ways that transcend the traditional classroom.
After settling into their cabins and breaking into their field groups, the students headed for their first classes of the week. These classes included Stream Geo-Ecology, Black Bear Ecology, Boating, Team-building, Orienteering, Conservation Photography, Web of Life, the Climbing Wall, Confidence Course, and Colonial Woodworking. The Stream Geo-Ecology class introduced the students to the concept of a watershed as an open system with both inputs and outputs. The Flat Brook River on campus became the classroom as students discussed various examples of erosion, analyzing how the stream helped to formed the land. Continuing with the watershed discussion students participated in a pollution input simulation. During this simulation, they learned how, on a daily basis, human activity affects our waters. Point source and non-point source pollution were defined during the class.
Leaving the conveniences of modern technology behind, one group of students went to Orienteering class. Orienteering is navigation using a map and compass, which remains an important skill for the United States military, the global trade industry, and any outdoor adventure. The students were trained on how to properly use a map and compass to navigate through the woods. They learned technical terms such as “shooting a bearing”, as well as the importance of using “landmarks”, back-bearings, and precision while they navigated. Our newly established map and compass experts then bravely took on the challenging School of Conservation orienteering course, winding them through the woods and the dense thickets of mountain laurel. The unwavering sixth graders remained focused and completed the course with astonishing accuracy. After navigating out the woods and back to campus, the students were confident in their new found skills, ready to lead an expedition of their own.
Gathering an understanding of the ecology of Stokes State Forest, and the skills to navigate within it, the Mullica and Folsom students were primed for an arduous 6.0 mile round-trip hike up to New Jersey’s beautiful Sunrise Mountain. The summit of Sunrise Mountain, the second highest point in New Jersey, provided excellent 360 degree views of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The hike took the students along the famed Appalachian Trail where they experienced first-hand the challenges of hiking on rough terrain. At the end of an exhausting day, everyone was proud of their accomplishment and ready for a hot meal and a bonfire with friends.
After enjoying an exciting week full of life long memories and a new found appreciation for our natural environment, it was time to pack up and return home. The School of Conservation staff would like to thank everyone involved in the Mullica and Folsom Township Schools for making this trip possible for their bright and deserving sixth graders. The NJSOC staff looks forward to hosting the township schools from south Jersey next year for their annual trip to the heart of Stokes State Forest.