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Editorial: Get the Kids Outside


"Oregon is an inspiration. Whether you come to it, or are born to it, you become entranced by our state's beauty, the opportunity she affords, and the independent spirit of her citizens," said Gov. Tom McCall in 1973. McCall, who graduated from Redmond High School, held office from 1967-75, during the early years of outdoor school education in Oregon. In Central Oregon, outdoor school education began in the 1950s.

For many who grew up in Oregon, or who raised children here, outdoor school has been a right of passage for the last 50 years. Rain or shine, as 11 and 12-year-olds, we spent a week away from home with trees, streams and the elements. (Back in the day, we even built little coffee can cook stoves, but that was then, and this is now.) Today, outdoor school continues to provide firsthand earth science lessons about plants, water, fire, and zero waste, in addition to the very memorable camp experience. However, in Central Oregon and elsewhere, the traditional week has been reduced to three days and two nights in recent years.

"If ever the world needed outdoor school, it is now," said Warren Gilfillan, a past Outdoor Education Director in Oregon from 1966-83. "We're headed down the road to destruction if we can't get together and educate ourselves," he told an "Oregon Field Guide" reporter in 2012.

In Central Oregon, Becca Gilbert is working to gather signatures for Outdoor School for All, Initiative Petition 67. A total of 100,000 signatures are necessary by the end of June in order to get the issue on the November ballot for Oregon voters. IP 67 would create an Outdoor School Education Fund to ensure a weeklong outdoor school continues for students in every part of Oregon. Gilbert is the Central and Eastern Oregon coordinator leading volunteers. She reports the ballot initiative has 10,000 signatures (and counting), with 8,000 of those coming from Central Oregon. More volunteers are needed, she says.

IP 67 proposes funding for outdoor school from the Oregon lottery. "This initiative allocates $22 million from the remainder of the Oregon Lottery which is largely used by the state legislature for various economic development projects," says Caroline Fitchett, state director of Outdoor School for All. With this plan in place, over the next decade, the program would serve half a million students, provide 30,000 internships, and generate $270 million in economic impact for Oregon's local and mostly rural economies, according to a report commissioned by the Gray Family Foundation.

No taxes will be levied or raised to support outdoor school education, and the ballot measure won't take any funds from education (57 percent of the lottery fund allocations) or parks or watersheds (together, 15 percent). A maximum of $22 million annually would be set aside for a week of outdoor school education for students throughout Oregon. Let's sign the petition, help get kids outside and protect our Oregon outdoor school tradition.

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