The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Legislature considering converting youth camp into outdoor school

 


Recently, it was announced that the Naselle Youth Camp will be closed as of June 30, 2023, with State of Washington considering a proposal to convert the camp property and facilities to an outdoor education center.

After calling two locations in Olympia Tuesday morning, it is most accurate to say any decisions regarding closing the camp appear to be in limbo because the House of Representatives pulled it out of their budget.

Also, it appears the proposal has been dropped from the Senate’s budget. However, negotiations will start soon with members of both the House and the Senate.

Closure could be inserted into a budget at any point. Negotiations are done by committees in private meetings, so a final decision is not known at this time.

It is fairly certain the Naselle Youth Camp at this point is not going to be closed, but a change could happen at any time until all negotiations are finished and the governor signs the final document.

State officials are considering turning the correctional youth facility into an outdoor school.

The first outdoor education program was established in Ellensburg in 1939. Currently there are several sites in the state with various types of outdoor learning activities. Some examples are Pullman Public Schools, Island Wood Environmental Education Center on Bainbridge Island, Tahoma High School, and Highline’s Camp Waskowitz.

If this proposed use of the camp is to come to life, this will mean a major shift for Naselle and the Naselle/Grays River Valley School District, but while change may be coming, it needn’t mean that it’s not a good or acceptable change; it’s just different from what our community is used to.

The youth camp site would not be empty if the plan for an Outdoor Education Program is implemented. One recent document from the legislature states, “The Department of children, youth and families – juvenile rehabilitation - must cease operation of the Naselle Youth Camp by June 30, 2023. It is the intention of the legislature, after the closure, to transfer management of the NYC land and facilities to the Department of Natural Resources and develop the facilities into an outdoor school. The Department must assist the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction with the report on the use of Naselle’s Youth Camp for an outdoor school.” Another document from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction states: “Outdoor learning supports implementation of multiple content areas and standards.” Outdoor learning has expanded over time across the country but access to current facilities is not equal for all students.

An article in the Seattle Times from February 14, 2022, by Sarah Kahle, titled “Washington House bill would expand outdoor education statewide,” stated: “A bill that passed out of the Washington House in a 92-6 vote Saturday [Feb. 12]aims to expand outdoor school programs to all fifth and sixth graders in the state. It now heads to the Senate. House Bill 2078 would establish the Outdoor Education Experience Program to support the development of outdoor programs as well as provide opportunities for high school counselors. It would also create the Outdoor Learning Grant Program, which would allocate grants to school districts and outdoor school providers. HB 2018 offers students more than just a way to reconnect with nature throughout the isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Outdoor learning has been shown to have huge developmental benefits, from improving social and emotional skills to fostering community and connectedness. Learning in nature also helps students develop curiosity and an appreciation for the scientific processes of our environment, bill supporters say.”

If you would like to contact our Senator, Jeff Wilson and our Representatives Joel McEntire and Jim Walsh to express your views on the proposed Outdoor Education program for the NYC, send them an email on their message center at: http://app.leg.wa.gov where there is a list of our legislators with their email addresses as well as a form for messages.

In addition to those from District 19, John Braun, a local landowner who is also a senator from Chehalis, is a good contact for this bill. Entities who may be involved in the project and planning might include Department of Natural Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Ecology, University of Washington, Western Washington University, Office of Public Instruction Superintendent and Western Washington University, who have helped develop curriculum at other outdoor education locations.

Senator Sam Hunt from Olympia, the prime sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, (5925) stated: “Covid has certainly shown us that students, among others, need outlets. They need to get outdoors, they need to have some recreation, they need to smell the fresh air.”

 

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