The Oregon Resources Research and Education Center (ORREC) that opened with much fanfare last fall promising nature-oriented camps in the woods outside Ophir, has folded due to a lack of financial support, it was announced last week.

The plan was to help fifth- to seventh-graders explore the woods and estuaries and bring equipment and university researchers to guide them to hone their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills that are stagnating in schools throughout the nation.

The idea was introduced by Frank Burris of the OSU Extension office in Gold Beach and is based on a similar education center in Maine called LabVenture and Vital Signs. A similar education center, Coastal Discovery Center at Camp Gray in Newport, was founded on the same premise.

Fort Euchre, about 12 miles north of Gold Beach, was to be situated on 23 acres featuring watersheds and forests in which students could learn about coastal ecology, wildlife, emergent coastal geology, fish-bearing riparian areas and mixed-species rainforests.

Also planned was a 1,520-square-foot “projection dome,” a giant geodesic, paneled dome. Three Conestoga wagon-like labs were to serve as labs.

It was to have lofts, restrooms, showers, a commercial kitchen, RV sites and a helicopter pad. The overnight program was going to have high school mentors and camp counselors and university student-teachers.

The leaders, themselves often graduate students, were to come from Humboldt State University in California, the University of Oregon and Oregon State and Southern Oregon University.

STEM in the woods

This camp was going to be different, said Executive Director Kitty Bunten.

“They’ll learn why it’s important not to pick up urchins in tide pools, or how to identify trees,” she told the Brookings City Council last fall in a presentation. “Our kids will learn the traditional economy of the area — fishing, forestry — and why it’s important to manage our natural resources to be sustainable.”

Only one program was ever held, in September, and addressed eco-pollination using bees and butterflies.

The city of Brookings contributed $2,000 to the cause — Brookings City Councilor Dennis Triglia, a retired cancer immunology researcher, even matched it — and the ORREC board said it was going to solicit funds from other municipalities.

“I was so excited about it,” Triglia said of the concept. “I was so disappointed when I heard. They were asking for $1.3 million or something — I’ve heard people with pie-in-the-sky visions but they need $15 million. I thought, it might make it or not, but I didn’t expect it to fold this soon.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” Bunten said, “but we simply could not acquire the financial support we needed to survive.”

“I feel bad because I was such a proponent,” Triglia said. “But I did put my own money where my mouth was. It’s sad.I really want science to be in every kid’s head.”

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