Educational Environments

Teach Your Teachers Well

By Royal J. Nadeau PhD

My undergraduate Field Biology professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, whom I credit with my becoming a professional environmentalist, had been a counselor at Life Magazine’s National Camp for Professional Leadership in the 1940s. The camp was located on Mashipacong Pond, only five miles from the New Jersey School of Conservation’s future site. It was in a book that he loaned me that I saw pictures of the horse drawn covered wagons that were used to haul campers and supplies around the back roads to campsites throughout Sussex County. You can imagine my surprise when I saw remnants of these wagons on my first visit to NJSOC some fifteen years ago. I’ve been back several times since for various seminars and conferences; most recently this spring for another look around.

Lake Wapalanne at NJSOC.
Long before Dawn Sperry brought her classes to NJSOC, she attended as a student.

"Respect, responsibility and resourcefulness”, according to Dawn Sperry, are the three Rs that are instilled into each and every student attending the New Jersey School of Conservation. For many years, Dawn coordinated trips for seventh graders from Dover Middle School who come every year to SOC, as it is referred to by students and teachers alike. Prior to her supervisory role at NJSOC, Dawn had attended as a student.

Each academic year the NJSOC provides environmental education programs for nearly 7,000 elementary and secondary school students; and nearly 1,000 teachers from 100 schools in 21 counties in New Jersey. Many of the teachers return each year. Although some districts have stopped their participation due to budgetary restraints, others still send students whose grandparents attended 40 or more years ago.

The New Jersey School of Conservation is the Environmental Education Field Campus of Montclair State University. Located 57 miles from the Essex County campus, on a 240-acre tract within the boundaries of Stokes State Forest in Sussex County, it is the oldest university-operated environmental education center in the nation. The educational component is actually geared to training educators and teachers who realize the benefits of using the outdoors as a classroom. The SOC staff teaches the teachers that accompany each group of students; then monitor the teachers as they go about conducting the exercises associated with each unit. All of the lesson plans for each teaching unit are on the NJSOC web site to encourage teachers to prepare ahead of their trip. Educators can actually gain Professional Development Units required by the State of New Jersey by using this program.

A statue commemorates the CCC companies that worked in Stokes State Forest from 1933-1942.

The original buildings were part of the Skellinger Family properties that eventually became headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) responsible for constructing cabins, privies, roads, bridges and impoundments for holding water to fight forest fires. As you drive through the forest today, you cannot help but take notice of their artesian handiworks, especially the fine stonework on the bridges crossing the Flatbrook and its tributaries. A commemorative statue of a CCC Enrollee dedicated in 1996 greets visitors arriving on the SOC grounds. The CCC was part of Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933 by which millions of out-of-work young men were employed on public projects to repair and enhance our nation’s natural resources.

The New Jersey School of Conservation officially opened on Memorial Day in 1949 with Dr. E. De Alton Partridge as its first Director. Partridge believed that outdoor education could serve as a critical approach to help teachers with subjects in which they lacked first hand experience or knowledge; like weather, natural history and geology. Dr. Partridge had cultivated his skills in outdoors education at the Mashipacong Pond Life Camp where my college professor counciled. Dr. John Kirk then served a long tenure as Director until his retirement in 1999, when Dr. William (Bill) Thomas, an anthropologist from Arizona State University, took over the reins. His ongoing ethno-ecological research in the conservation and traditional ecological wisdom of indigenous people in Papua New Guinea lends unique perspective for his work here in New Jersey.

The De Groat cabin commemorates original settlements on the SOC property.
Below: The Skylands Environmental Research and Monitoring Station on the SOC campus.

As you would expect, much of the overall education program at NJSOC is oriented to natural history, outdoor activities and learning situations ranging from astronomy, beaver ecology, and bird watching to wetland ecology. Equally important are the social science and the humanities components, with sessions on Art in Nature, Creative Writing and Sensory Awareness in a Natural Setting. In the past, summer programs at NJSOC have included a Student Music Camp with noted musicians conducting workshops on jazz and other musical genre. This summer, the Preparatory Center for the Arts of Montclair State will provide curriculum and faculty for the Stokes Music Camp. Working together with the New Jersey School of Conservation, the program offer students aged 10-18 a camping experience that fuses the better of two worlds: music and nature. NJSOC provides the setting and staff to run the ecology classes and hikes. A day program is available for qualified younger students and residents of Sussex County and nearby locations. Registration and more information is available on line .

Some of the students from Dover during my most recent visit to NJSOC told me that one of their favorite sessions is the Action Socialization Experience where small groups of students cooperatively decide on a solution to a carefully designed problem and then carry out their plan of action as quickly and efficiently as possible. Students have approximately 15 minutes at each station. As a result, the students realize that through communication and cooperation they are able to solve numerous challenges. Visiting teachers and adults are the facilitators for the actual activities but intervene only when the group needs refocusing. The students are assigned randomly, most of the time they do not know each other well and certainly have not worked together to solve a common problem before. The students incorporate this experience in team building back in the classroom in their regular school curriculum.

NJSOC has not been without its fiscal crises as priorities change within the academic world each year as. In 1980 Montclair State declared that an annual subsidy of $100,000 was needed to ensure the survival for NJSOC. The New Jersey Department of Higher Education refused the request and later that year SOC was notified that the annual $50,000 funding would cease as well. Assemblyman Robert Littell (later State Senator) introduced a financial aid bill for $144,000 which was unanimously approved. Although then Governor Brendon Byrne signed the bill, funding was not available because it was passed too late in the fiscal year. SOC’s closure was imminent. Only after an onslaught of 20,000 and hundreds of phone calls to legislators were the funds found to keep SOC going. Ever since, SOC is funded in part by a separate line item in the state’s budget which comes under scrutiny each year. The tuition and fees charged to the districts are not enough to operate NJSOC, so money must be provided by Montclair University and the State of New Jersey for its continued operation. As aged buildings deteriorate and need repair and as operating costs go up; "Each year is a struggle and a challenge” according to Dr. Thomas.

NJSOC is a very special place with solitude and serenity completely devoid of the noises and distractions of the outside world.

For those of you who would enjoy finding out more about the New Jersey School of Conservation, click here.

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Riviera Maya
  • Celebrating ten fantastic years in our Branchville location, this family-owned authentic Mexican restaurant offers all your favorites with a few surprises, expertly prepared and exquisitely presented. Come enjoy a fun and exciting dining experience here, at our other fine-dining location in Rockaway, or at our Taqueria in Morris Plains and the Rockaway Mall. Bienvenido!

    340 Route 206, Branchville 07826, 973/948-6292

  • Franklin Mineral Museum
  • "The Fluorescent Mineral Capitol of the World" Fluorescent, local & worldwide minerals, fossils, artifacts, two-level mine replica. New activity "The Adventure Package" includes gem panning, fossil dig and rock collecting! Gift shop, picnic area. Open daily.

    32 Evans Street, Franklin 07416, 973/827-3481

  • Ochs Orchard
  • ?Homegrown fruits and vegetables available when in season. Honey, peanut butter, jams and jellies, homemade hard and soft ice-cream. Cider made on site from Red Delicious for sweetness, Winesap for tang, McIntosh and Empire for body. Honey, peanut butter, jams and jellies, homemade hard and soft ice-cream. Market open June through January.

    4 Ochs Ln, Warwick 10990, 845/986-1591

  • Sussex County Fairgrounds
  • There's always something fun happening at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. Visit our web site for a full year of family fun, right in your own backyard.

    27 Plains Road, Augusta 07822, 973/948-5500

  • Grey Towers


Stay in the Loop!

Get our newsletter, This Week in the NJ Skylands, with updates, special offers and good ideas!

Read current newsletter

Privacy Statement


06 Jul 2016, 06:24
Now retired from teaching in Europe and the US, the most remarkable teaching method in the midst of nature has been impressive and inspirational during my entire career. I was fortunate enough to be a counselor in the summer of 1966, precisely 50 years ago during Dr John Kirk's reign (I salute you!) in the spring quarter. I have not seen a similar program in any state incorporated in the state education system. It was utterly enjoyable to take groups of inner city youth as well a s college students through the woods and along the lake -lots of snakes-. I remember the various sports taught, the way the cabins were constructed, the amazing work of the CCC (thanks to President Roosevelt) right up to the rousing square dance evenings. Fun and learning. Great combo.
I have often thought back at this experience and how it opened up a new vista in my own teaching.
I saw the cardinal for the first time while crossing the bridge from the counselors' cabin. Took my breath away!
Gillian Marron
08 Feb 2016, 02:36
What wonderful memories. I was Miss Jill from Ireland and worked as a counsellor 40 years ago in the summer of 1975. Fantastic experience, such fun and such great people. Last week I found a letter in an old photo album from Mr Frank ( I wonder is he still as handsome?) I was trying to find his e-mail so I could write again. I shared a cabin with Kerry Kirk and have very fond memories of her and her great family. Mr Kevin, Miss Joanne and Miss Marg ( the bold one !) you still out there? All those lovely evenings beside Lake Wapalanne....
Wayne Bradley
12 Sep 2015, 20:36
Now this is good.

I was a counselor at Camp Wapalanne in 1970 and 1971 as a Rutgers University student. I stumbled across this site while looking for camping locations in Stokes Stat Forest.

What a great experience working with Dr John Kirk, Connie and Ron.I was there with co-counselors Pete M, Peter Q, Bruce, Roke,Marty, Mary, Christine, Tish, Ian, Beth and others. This group formed a memorable friendship- I recall attending reunions at the Camp.

I finished my BS in Environmental Science with a concentration in Wildlife Biology. It was the great memories of Camp that got me through college.

Carl Woehrle
21 Feb 2013, 19:47
I just 'stumbled upon' this site, and am now filled with many wonderful memories. As a member of the Montclair State College (as it was known then) Conservation Club, I attended several NJSOC programs, including overnight programs. I was already a fan of Stokes State Forest, and I fell in love with the SOC the moment I entered the grounds for the first time. In 1983, or maybe '84, I even took a half dozen white pine seedlings to be planted on the SOC grounds, after the Arbor Day festivities on the MSC campus that I had put together. Then I had the thrill and honor of spending the summer of 1985 as a Camp Wapalanne counselor. What a magical experience! I had already met, and already respected, Dr. Kirk; and working for him helped make that summer even more special. Likewise for the chance to meet Mary Durbin. I was further honored when Dr. Kirk liked my idea of doing a dramatic reading of The Lorax during the ceremonies on the last night of camp. We counselors stayed out of sight of the kids as we recited our lines, from a myriad of angles from the kids. "I am The Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues." Several years after that amazing summer, while hiking elsewhere in Stokes State Forest, I randomly crossed paths with one of the kids from my cabin. I knew that Jeremy looked familiar, but his appearance had changed more than mine; so after a few awkward seconds he asked if I was Mr. Carl, which had been my official name in the summer of '85. We had a really good conversation. Montclair and New Jersey will always be my home town and state, but Colorado is now my home. Many people here have thanked me for letting them know, or at least reminding them, that NJ is not all highways, factories, and malls. I do, of course, often use Stokes and the NJSOC as examples of 'the other' New Jersey.
25 Sep 2012, 06:20
I havent been there...YET
Bob Archer
03 Sep 2012, 18:12
I went to the camp in 1970. I remember a counslor that taught us Rattlin ' Bog and Hole in the Bucket...i think he was from Scotland, played the banjo? I also remember folding rhe flag, swimming lessons, and a trip to a ski slope, i remember a counselor and I were riding a chair and he lifted the bar, scary but all fun.\r\n\r\nI can still sing Rattlin' Bog .... well in the shower maybe!
Marg Herpoldt
19 Aug 2012, 07:48
Well.. I'm knocked out.. this is fantastic ! Wapalanne was so brilliant and so important and enjoyable for me, that I'm absolutely rapt to have spent the last hour and a half revisiting it :)\r\n
Anne G
04 Jun 2012, 10:05
I went on the trip with my 6th grade class in Dec. 1989.. this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I wouldn't recommend going in the winter though, it is much too cold! ;) I had a great time and wish I still lived in NJ so my daughter could experience this too.\r\n\r\nThis is the part of NJ that outsiders need to see. They think our beautiful state is nothing but expressways and smokestacks!
james brandle
08 Feb 2012, 13:45
I was a counselor at SOC duringthe summers of 1982,83 and 84. It was a priviledge to work with and learn from Dr. John Kirk. I have so many memories to list. In passing I sing my girls to sleep each night to songs from the camp.ESP Power and Glory!!!
Hilary persky
19 Dec 2011, 20:31
I went to Wapalanne from 71 to I think 74. I am so delighted to see this site, as it was a truly wonderful experience. I too still make use of what I learned there about plants, and recall very vividly being taught to observe nature and appreciate it. The hikes, the canoe trips, and, for me, the nature center run by a lovely person who I can only recall as mr. Jim are very important memories. It was such a beautiful place and I am relieved to learn of the area's preservation. I also recall an extraordinarily kind English counselor from what must have been 1971. She read us a novel about a cat. I still recall one of the cats' favored principles: "When in doubt, wash. " was the person who read this to us miss Pat?\r\n\r\nThanks to those who valued and value this place.
Pete Martyniuk
14 Sep 2011, 16:54
Wow. Just found this site while browsing. I was a counselor from 1968-1973. Spent most of my time in cabin 8 up on the hill. Learned to play guitar and led songs in Bif Timbers. Iain McLachlan and I were counselors the last couple of years there. Dennis and Pat I remember you both. Pat, remember our day off in Atlantic City. Made lifelong friends with lots of memories. Still playing guitar and some of the old camp songs. Dr. Kirk and Dr. Kuhnen were two people that influenced me the most. Get on Facebook to contact Wapalanne allumni. Hope this finds its way to you.
Barbara J. Hull Haggerty
02 Sep 2011, 16:33
I grew up in Sussex County outskirts of Layton, toward the Delaware Bridge, We went to Stokes State Park growing up and my girlfriend Mary Ann Robinson lived at SOC with her parents CB and Mary theyworked there I not sure how many years. Very fond memories of SOC.
Dave D
22 Jul 2011, 17:49
I attended the School Of Conservation in 1977 with my local six grade class from Harrison Twp School.What great memories of learning about survival,the rich history of the area,as well as experiencing the awesome beauty of the landscape.I look back now and appreciate what I learned as well as the teachers that took the time to share their talents with me and my classmates.
Joe Brunton
25 Jun 2011, 16:43
What a wonderful place SOC is. It was one of the most formative influences of my personal and professional life.\r\nI travelled to the US from Ireland in August 1977 to take up the position of International Teaching Fellow at NJSOC, joining Barbera and Debbie there from the state of NJ. I worked alongside John Kirk, Reggie Kelly, Mary Durbin, Jerry and Linda Scherloe, Jim and Ellie Merrit, Patti Ford, CB and Mary and Max. I have the most wonderful memories of that year... the students, the snow and my efforts at cross country skying, travelling with the girls to Montclair for classes, beers in the the Dew Drop in and Game Suppers in Beddingtons. \r\nI think that the work done at NJSOC was and is a precious thing and I hope it will be cherished always. \r\nAs I approach the latter stages now of my own teaching career I offer my thanks again go to all those people who made my time there so enjoyable and rewarding.
Tony Muller
30 May 2011, 13:00
What a great resource NJSOC is, I first went there in the mid-'50s, attended Montclair State and continued to study at NJSOC during the '60s.I have great memories of good times there...Dr. Kirk, Dr. Kuhnen, they inspired me. Graduate school allowed me to teach there...and that was a proud moment...I'm retired now and live in Florida but I'll always treasure my days at Wapalanne!
09 May 2011, 18:23
Hello. I'm trying to find out if this is the same camp that students from Glen Meadow and Lounsberry Hollow Middle Schools attended for a three-day/two-night camping experiance during the 80s. I'm curious to know if the camp still looks the same as it did back then. Anyone with any information on that...please comments. Thanks
Eddie Greenberg
24 Apr 2011, 18:04
I went to Camp Wapalannee 1975,76 and 77.It was some of the best memories of my life. Both of my brothers attended also at the same time. I loved going on a hike to Spring Brook Cabin, and drink the ice cold water directly out of the ground. I wonder if anyone remembers C.B., the guy in maintenance who shot the snapping turtle in the swimming area. He made stew out of him and welcomed anyone to try it. Great times! Thanks to Dr. Kirk and his family for all the great memories.
Scott Petrillo
30 Oct 2010, 04:33
Hello,\r\nI attended the camp from 1975-77, and was wondering if it still existed as a camp for youngsters? I have young children now and thought it would be a wonderful opportunity/experience for them as it was for me growing up. Any links to a site where the activities can be reviewed would be appreciated.\r\n\r\nThanks,\r\nScott
Charles Kerman
16 Sep 2010, 21:49
If you made it this far, and you went to summer camp at Wapalanne, then head to this corner of Facebook.\r\n\r\n ch\r\n
Carole-Lynn DeGroat
22 Aug 2010, 14:26
I love seeing the DeGroat cabin being used, see pics above.\r\n\r\nIt makes all of us very proud, thank you for preserving it.
Jeff Larsen
21 Aug 2010, 04:44
Beautiful part of the state. Spent many a summer there as a camper and know Dr. Kirk and his family (HI Kerry!) well, (including Mrs. Durbin) as they dined with us in the Dining Hall. Remember the great food, bug juice and of course the wonderful brown bag lunches when we went on trips. I think that the experience I gained from this led me into the field I am today, parks and recreation. I have been in this for over 25 years. But I digress. Remember the beaver pond, canoeing, rifle shooting, playing sports, listening to the ghost stories at the campfire at night and the wonderful sights and sounds of the forest in the morning and evening. This gave me a deeper appreciation of nature and all her splendor. I went here as a High School student to study nature, eco-systems, etc. I eventually became a counselor during one of the summer in the 70ís (78 or 79). Anyway, glad to see funding somewhat restored and should be made permanent. Thanks Dr. Kirk for all youíve done and continue to do. It has impacted me for my entire life. Jeff Larsen
Dennis and Pat
20 Aug 2010, 00:47
Hi\r\nWe were two of the English counsellors at Camp Wapalanne in 1971. Would love to hear from Jenny who posted in 2009 or anyone else.\r\n\r\nWhat an inspirational person Dr Kirk was - although at the time we didn't realise it. I dont think anyone in Britain had heard of "ecosystems" in 1971. Happy memories of a great place
Sheila Mone Brown
12 Aug 2010, 15:37
Gosh ! What a great site. The camp and the Kirk's (Hi Kerry !) were definitely one of the best, most life altering times I've experienced. I've used and taught EE I learned there for the last 40 years. My kids are amazed that I can point out edible plants, use a compass and a map, canoe, shoot and use a bow and arrow. Come on and take a walk with me indeed ! We're only as free as a padlocked prison door, only as rich as the poorest of the poor. Only as strong as our love for this land....\r\nI am very, very distressed to read of the financial struggles of th SOC.
Charles Kerman
12 May 2010, 21:54
Hello. Its been so long since I have seen you, my fellow campers. My three siblings and I all took turns at the summer Camp Wapalanne. I was a camper one month each summer 1969 to 1973. The friends, the activities, the counselors, the music, the Kirks, Ms Durban (sp?), all those Whites. Charlie Brown the bus driver. Learning learning learning. The nicknames, the all camps, the overnights, canoeing down the Delaware if you mastered your skills. Can you remember Mr Scott's banjo and Mr Pete's guitar. Playing playing playing. In the streams in the sand in the woods. I hope I remembered enough to touch your memories. I do sometimes long to go back in time to that place. Come on and take a walk with me through this green and growing land...
Bob Ricdela
11 May 2010, 12:26
Dawn Sperry works in Dover High School now and has not run the Dover Middle School Stokes Conservation trip in four years. Please update your page.
31 Mar 2010, 18:51
My brother and I attended Camp Wapalanne in 1969 when we were 12. We had a great time and have many terrific memories of our bunk, counselors Joe and Tony, and a great group of fellow campers. I remember being awakened in the middle of the night to watch the first moon landing!
Dana luna
10 Dec 2009, 14:00
you people should go to stock tsate forest it was my first time going for three days and it was get to play and experiance more suff.If you go you will meet Mr.Beeler and other taecher they are cool and very nice
04 Oct 2009, 14:07
I recently just traveled up to the NJSOC with my school. It was really beautiful seeing all wild life.
18 Sep 2009, 16:08
It's marvellous to know that Wapalanne continues to provide superb outdoor and environmental education. I had a fantastic summer there in '71, - one of the English counsellors. I still remember the many friends I made, both amongst the staff and campers. Dr Kirk made us all so welcome and taught me a great deal, which has been useful throughout my teaching career here in the UK. We are making a trip to New York next week, and will spend some time with two of the leaders from Camp, we have kept in touch all of these years; (Mrs Connie and Mr Ron)
Joanne Butter Gilsey
02 Sep 2009, 17:44
I was both a camper and a counselor at Camp Wapalanne and had the pleasure and honor to work with Dr. Kirk (and Kerry). My years at Wapalanne are some of the fondest memories of my life. It is a truly beautiful and wonderful place and I think of it often. I am also pleased to have stumbled across this site. I hope some of the others I spent time with there will also stumble across it. Kerry, if you read this please tell your father I said hello (camper 1967-1970, counselor 1979 & 1980)
kerry kirk pflugh
31 Aug 2009, 17:12
I am the eldest daughter of John J. Kirk, the longest serving Director of SOC. In addition to the contributions he made to environmental education here in New Jersey, the SOC served as a model for EE field centers across the world. My father traveled extensively in his career working with many countries to establish EE field centers. After serving 37 years at SOC, upon retiring, he continued to be involved in EE by serving on the Governors Council for EE and working for the United Nations on the Environmental Sabbath programme. He is retired now and living in Sussex County. I live here in Warren County and am pleased to have stumbled across this site. Good job promoting one of the jewels of our State.
Carole-Lynn DeGroat
13 May 2009, 08:18
I attended as a kid in the late 60's. I have never forgotten it. Hiking in the woods, a beaver dam, archery, crafts. It was the best camp my brother and I ever attended. I'd go back in a second. Wish there was an adult version.
tylise gloria hale cullen
08 May 2009, 05:07
I am lucky enough to be a 7th grader who is going to stokes from may 18th to may 20th overnight with my school brms in bordentown we should have alot of fun as we saw the other 7th graders who are now 8th graders go to stokes and come back happy and i hope that we will come back happy as wellll!!!!!
02 Feb 2009, 16:13
who are the teachers for ornitology\r\n
Gregg Paporello
12 Dec 2008, 13:22
I was fortunate enough to have attended NJSOC for many years as a camper. Truly a beautiful and natural surrounding that, for a youngster from suburban NJ, was some of my most memorable summer experiences. Dr. Kirk was the director during all of my time there and no one epitomized education and real life learning like he did. We also believed he had eyes all over the forest when we were caught acting up; but I'm sure that was just our imaginations. If you or your children get the opportunity, NJSOC is absolutely worth the visit.
20 Nov 2008, 04:11
As also we work with Ecotourism in Zanzibar i will be so happy to have you as our friend from Other party of world.\r\n\r\nThanks\r\
stokes soc luvr
14 Nov 2008, 14:37
I just came back from stokes our 6th grade class trip today 11/14/08 it was so fun i slt in cabin 1 and we name the cabin pamo (pink camo) I wish I was still there and the food was great. I would recommend it to anyone
Stokes Lover
19 Oct 2008, 18:08
i just went to stokes two weeks ago on a 7th grade school trip. It was the time of my life! we left on october 8 in the moring and came back on october 10 in the afternoon. we hiked up sunrise mountain and the view on top was breath taking! i really wish i could go there again!
Lindsay Beechwood
12 Oct 2008, 15:58
I remember going to stokes state forest in 1991 as a 6th grader. I have the fondest memories from that trip and I learned so much. I wish for my children to enjoy the same, but our school system does not participate at this time. How can I get an informational brochure or resource information to pass on to the school board where I live? I did leave a message with the Stokes office...
12 Sep 2008, 19:20
My school has been going for years\r\n
10 Sep 2008, 23:05
My sister and I went to Camp Wapalanne in\r\nthe 1950's and have the fondest memories. we hiked the appy trail, ate blueberries, swam and canoed in the lake. most of all we developed a love and appreciation of nature which continues to this day.
deborah dorsey
01 Jun 2008, 13:03
this is concerning summer school ged program can someone get back with me about this
08 Feb 2008, 13:38
Stokes State Park looks so beautiful... You should definitely get the time to go there!

Leave this empty, this field is to detect spam.

Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my email
Powered by Scriptsmill Comments Script