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Governor’s chopping block includes popular camp

 Linda Sheridan, interpretive specialist at Camp Moran State Park, talks with parents Jan. 14 about the upcoming excursion to the park taken annually by Oak Harbor middle school students. The popular camp could close in September if the governor’s list of recommended cutbacks become a reality.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Linda Sheridan, interpretive specialist at Camp Moran State Park, talks with parents Jan. 14 about the upcoming excursion to the park taken annually by Oak Harbor middle school students. The popular camp could close in September if the governor’s list of recommended cutbacks become a reality.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Camp Moran has been a tradition for such a long time that some former campers are sending their children to the popular Orcas Island camp.

However, the popular environmental learning center, which Oak Harbor sixth-graders eagerly attend every year, is on the list of proposed cuts in the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Linda Sheridan, interpretive specialist at Camp Moran, said the outdoor school is considered a special program, and those type of programs were targeted to cut. She said Moran State Park is the only park in the state that has a residential environmental education center.

“Our future is looking pretty grim,” Sheridan told Oak Harbor Middle School parents during a Wednesday evening orientation about the coming camp. While the Moran Environmental Learning Center could close, Moran State Park is expected to remain open.

Virginia Painter, spokesperson for Washington State Parks, said that staff are still doing more budget analysis on the expenditures and revenues of the environmental learning center. She said State Parks is required to make a 10 percent cut to its budget, which comes to $10 million.

Whidbey Island’s state parks were spared from the closure list.

Painter added the budget proposal is preliminary. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is meeting Thursday in Ocean Shores to discuss the budget. In addition to the governor’s budget, the House and the Senate also develop budget drafts.

Sheridan is still moving forward with plans for school district sixth-graders to attend the camp later this school year. Should the outdoor school be cut, it would close in September 2009.

Sheridan visited both Oak Harbor middle schools Wednesday evening to round up chaperones for the three-day camp.

Parents attending the orientation weren’t happy with the idea of the venerable outdoor education center closing.

“I think it would be a shame if they did it,” parent Amy Peplinski said. She attended Camp Moran when she was a sixth grader, and one of her children already attended the camp and the second one is scheduled to attend this spring.

“It’s sort of a right of passage for the Oak Harbor School District,” said parent Molly Nagel. “It’s a good team-building effort and it gets kids out of the classroom.”

Oak Harbor School District administrators have tried several times to cut the camp in recent years because it’s expensive to operate and the five-day camp lacked a program that meshed with new learning requirements.

Instead of cutting the camp last year, officials worked with camp staff to shorten the duration of the camp and change the educational program.

This year, sixth-graders will attend a three-day camp instead of the traditional five days. The middle schoolers will learn about microforests, wetlands and tree identification. They will also kayak and hike to Cascade Falls.

Approximately 850 students annually participate in the Moran Environmental Learning Center. Of that number approximately 400 attend Oak Harbor schools.

Sheridan said the center started in 1995. Oak Harbor middle school teachers had been bringing students up for years even before that. She said students typically visit in the fall and the spring. During other times of the year, and on weekends, the cabins and lodge are available for event rental. In all, the Moran Environmental Learning Center saw approximately 11,000 visitors in 2008.

The buildings at the environmental learning center were recently renovated, and Sheridan was concerned that if the center closes, even for a short period of time, schools would find another site or choose to stop participating in such camps.

“I think it would be a shame to lose that,” Sheridan said.

During the Wednesday evening orientation at the middle schools, she encouraged parents to write their local legislators and to contact the Parks and Recreation Commission.

“Hopefully that will put pressure on the agency to change it’s mind,” Sheridan said.

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