Outdoor Enthusiast Interview
The Outdoor Campus
The Outdoor Campus is an outdoor education facility located in South Dakota. It offers a wide range of classes, houses a museum and is FREE to the public. If you are looking for a family vacation that will help you brush up on your outdoor skills...this is the place. I was given the privilege of interviewing the director of The Outdoor Campus and would like to share the interview with you.
1) Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself and The Outdoor Campus to our readers.
Thanks for inviting us! My name is Thea Miller Ryan and I’m the director of The Outdoor Campus, an outdoor education facility under the umbrella of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department.
2) Where are you located?
We are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, our state’s largest city. Our metro population is about 180,000 people. It doesn’t sound that large to many city-folk, but considering our state is only 750,000 people, we’re considered “the city.”
3) You are a part of the South Dakota Game and Fish Parks. Tell us about your objectives and some of the classes and services that you offer.
Our goal is to preserve South Dakota’s outdoor heritage through hands-on outdoor experiences. The Outdoor Campus is a nature center, but what makes us different from the usual nature center is the fact that we focus on outdoor skills education. Our programming consists of 25% hunting programs, 25% fishing programs, 25% outdoor skills (cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, hiking, bird watching, outdoor cooking, etc.) and 25% outdoor/environmental education.
We love to teach all ages about ethical, modern and safe ways to enjoy the outdoors. Our programs are set up for:
- Community (individuals, preschool to “gray”)
- Groups (scouts, church groups, etc.)
- Preschools (businesses with preschools)
- Elementary Schools (our classes meet the state science standards)
- Middle Schools (meet state science standards)
- High Schools (three area public schools have two classes here a day on outdoor skills)
- Teachers (continuing education credits available)
- Video Conference System (connects all schools in the state for video conference education programs)
About 100,000 people visit The Outdoor Campus
each year. Around 15,000 of those are here for scheduled programs.
4) I see from your website that you offer classes to school children. Would a home-school group be welcome and will you teach a small class of 15-20 children of varying ages/grade levels?
Yes! We do reach some home school groups and have done presentations at home school conferences. We also encourage home school parents to take our Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, Project WET, Project Leopold and Ag in the Classroom programs for ideas and curriculum assistance for their kids.
5) What will visitors to The Outdoor Campus find?
Our facility sits in a 100-acre city park. The Big Sioux River borders the campus, and we have several oxbow lakes throughout the grounds. We’ve planted native grasses in the park, so visitors get to experience a tall-grass prairie habitat. We have a 2-acre fishing pond and two miles of trails for pedestrians. Butterflies flock to our 6,000 square foot butterfly garden during the summer months.
Inside, visitors will find a museum featuring South Dakota habitats and the outdoor skills you can enjoy in those areas. A 3,000 gallon aquarium attracts many visitors, as does our resident blue jay, Flopper, an imprinted bird we use to teach kids baby animals should be left in nature.
6) What is the cost for attending your facility and/or taking a class?
There is no admission fee to visit our facility or take a class. Our funding comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses in South Dakota. We ask only that you thank a hunter or angler.
7) If someone would like to travel to The Outdoor Campus from out of state, are there campsites available at or near your facility where they can practice what they learn at The Outdoor Campus?
We are located in a city park in Sioux Falls, so there is no overnight camping allowed here. However, we are very near some beautiful state parks and recreation areas where people can do everything – camping, fishing, rock climbing, kayaking, bird watching, hiking and so much more. The South Dakota State Park system includes 12 state parks, 42 recreation areas, 5 nature areas, 1 historic prairie, 69 lakeside use areas, and 10 marina/resorts. In addition, the Division of Parks and Recreation manages the 114-mile Mickelson Trail, South Dakota’s Snowmobile Trail Program, 220 public water access areas and maintains 291 boat ramps with a total of 389 launching lanes.
8) What are your most popular classes?
Fishing and outdoor cooking would probably top our list of most popular classes. Anytime we teach camping cooking or Dutch oven cooking we increase the demand for more classes. It’s a great “problem” to have! We always send recipe books home, filled with our tastiest treats, with all our camping cooking participants.
9) Many hikers have difficulty learning how to orient a compass to a topographic map. Do you have a class to help them learn this skill?
We do have orienteering and map reading classes. People take these classes for many different reasons – they’re planning wilderness hikes, they’re planning walk-in hunting trips, they want to attend “O” meets, or they just want to learn to be a better navigator. We also teach a growing number of groups and individuals how to use a GPS unit.
10) Avid outdoorsmen are frequent volunteers. Does The Outdoor Campus have volunteer opportunities? If so, what opportunities are available and what are the basic requirements?
We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our volunteers. We have about 160 volunteers from ages 12 and up. They assist us with a huge variety of jobs including fishing instructors, education assistants, visitor center front desk greeters and animal care help for our educational animals.
All our volunteers go through a screening process that includes criminal background checks, a training course, and then depending on their interests, further training in specialized activities.
11) Do you have a schedule of events/classes? A newsletter? Where can our readers find it?
We love social media! It’s a great way to reach people! All our classes are on our website
We're on Twitter:
We have an email newsletter here:
We're also on Facebook: The Outdoor Campus
12) I understand you are opening a second location in Western South Dakota. Where will it be located. When will it open? Will its services be the same or different from your current location. Tell us more about it.
We are really excited to break ground on our second Outdoor Campus this year! The new facility will be in Rapid City, South Dakota – the gateway to the Black Hills. The Outdoor Campus-West will be located on a 33-acre site along Sturgis Road, just west of West Chicago St, on the way to Black Hawk. An official timeline for the project hasn't been set yet, however we are hoping to open the facility in late 2010. The services offered at TOC-West will be very similar to those offered at The Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls. Education programs will be split between hunting, fishing, outdoor skills and outdoor education programs. Some of the topics and events will be tailored specifically to the Black Hills and western South Dakota habitats and species.
More information here:
Website for The Outdoor Campus-West
Facebook: The Outdoor Campus-West
Thank you, Thea, for sharing this wonderful family destination with my readers. I wish you luck in your new "West" location. I will be visiting your Outdoor Campus on my next visit to South Dakota and I hope my readers find your campus on their travels as well.
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