I just came across an article of good news that might spark some (hopefully good) memories! It was announced that the New Jersey School of Conservation at Stokes State Forest in Sussex County will indeed survive and not fall further into ruin anytime soon. The combined effects of budget cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic almost brought complete closure to this venerable place, the nation’s oldest school of conservation. The school has now survived to celebrate its 72nd anniversary!
Many area students, if they were in sixth grade at the time, may remember the famous long school bus ride with their classmates to the other end of the state. There, staying in bunk houses with teachers and parents as chaperones for four days, the kids enjoyed a nature and outdoor learning experience that most have never forgotten. Those who attended as students, or as chaperones (my wife and I included), will never forget the excitement in the air, the boisterous meeting hall, hikes, classes and games, climbing walls, campfires, and oh yes, the shortage of sleep!
This 240 acre facility, originally constructed during the Depression as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, has been used for conservation work since then and exclusively for education of teachers and students since 1949. For quite a long time, this served as a natural studies center for six of New Jersey’s primary teacher colleges: Glassboro, Jersey City, Montclair, Newark, Paterson and Trenton. That is, until it was announced a couple of years ago that the long time support of the facility by Montclair State College, now Montclair State University (MSU), could no longer be maintained in their budget.
Fortunately, a funding group was formed called the “Friends of the NJ School of Conservation.” Obviously, there seems to be a long memory of the value of this place, as many former attendees and other supporters stepped up. The group has been deemed viable and financially able to take over ownership and stewardship, providing the percentage of the funding that Montclair State University had supplied for so many years. The gap in funding between revenues and the cost of refurbishing the buildings and grounds will be provided through a partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
For now, the budget will include funding to rehire staff to continue the education of students on various topics from grade 6 through 12 and on up to the college and post-graduate levels. It is not clear if or when the School of Conservation might be open again to be enjoyed in exactly the same way that over 6,000-9,000 students and nearly 1,000 teachers from over 100 schools did, almost every year since 1949.
It has been proven over and over that kids benefit at a very early age by being in and around natural settings. Understanding and appreciating what makes nature tick is crucial to a lifetime of respect and stewardship of the environment. It may not be everyone’s “thing” to always seek the outdoors as a source for recreation, solace and renewal. However, I think it is safe to say that just mentioning the word “Stokes” still brings recognition to many around New Jersey who perhaps traveled there as a “rite of passage” in the sixth grade. You can find more information and see more photos of the facility at the website of Friends of The New Jersey School of Conservation, at https://friendsofnjsoc.org.
The bottom line is that we need to continue traditions like this, even if it may not be this same exact experience so far away. The Stokes State Forest NJ School of Conservation camp model could be used in full or in parts to stimulate useful conservation knowledge and respectful behaviors within our young people. We need to be creative in providing such opportunities in equitable and sustainable ways.
Go Green Galloway is a volunteer organization dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of Galloway through the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation, entvironmental education and the implementation of sustainable practices. We always welcome new volunteer members. Contact us at email@example.com or call Mary at 609-742-7076. Also be sure to like our Facebook page.