IDAHO CITY — Snakes and smokejumpers helped hundreds of Basin School District students throw an Earth Day celebration 17 years in the making on Friday.
But this wasn’t just any old Earth Day celebration. Basin officials used the holiday to stage the opening ceremonies for their Idaho Center for Outdoor Education.
Situated along 87 acres of mountainous, wooded terrain adjacent to the district’s football field, the Idaho Center for Outdoor Education is hands-on, multipurpose classroom and recreation center staged in a forest.
Basin administrators and school board members have been forging partnerships and pursuing the land since 1999. In 2011, the district worked with the BLM to lease the land in question, and a purchase agreement for the land was facilitated via the Recreation and Purchase Act last fall for just $866.
“It’s been a long road to where we are now,” Basin Superintendent John McFarlane said. “We started this process last century.”
The entire center is pitched as a community project that is open to Basin students, students from outside the district and the public.
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Features of the center already include:
- An accessible nature trail.
- A natural, wooded amphitheater.
- An observation point.
- Trail markers and a Frisbee golf course.
- An archery range.
- Space for yoga courses, slacklining and art projects.
- Plans for a boardwalk that will stretch into the wetlands.
Future developments will include a science lab, indoor classroom and covered pavilion.
Idaho City High School senior Aaron Carignan has worked for three year to help launch the outdoor center as part of a student committee. After graduating this year, Aaron plans to attend Boise State University and major in environmental science. He’s already brainstorming ways he can leverage his college coursework in ways that benefit the outdoor center in the future.
“That’s kind of what it’s all about for me, being able to leave this behind and know I had a part in making this happen,” Aaron said.
In connection with Friday’s opening ceremony, BLM smokejumpers and National Interagency Fire Center officials discussed wildland fires and their impact on the ecosystem. An archeologist passed around ancient stone tools such as arrowheads and then helped the students learn how to throw spears.
U.S. Forest Service officials led students in a hands-on demonstration of erosion. And geologists, hydrologists and entomologists set up stations for students to get their hands dirty.
Seventh-grader Faith Head said the outdoor center will offer her so much more than a traditional classroom or textbook. On Friday, she held a snake for the first time, which she said helped her understand the reptiles way more than a book would.
“It’s better because you get to learn about your nature and your Earth and we get to do activities with, for example, bugs, snakes and trees,” Faith said. “It’s physical. You can actually touch it and learn from it and observe it.”