Why You Wanna Work at The Outdoor Campus

20 Aug

By Travis Miller
Starting a new job is an event that brings up many emotions: apprehension, excitement, anticipation, and fear. Upon beginning work at The Outdoor Campus, I was initially scared of what my co-workers would think of me. How would we get along? Will they think I’m weird? What if they all hate me? I was also worried about the fact that I was the only male among six naturalist interns. With five women as co-workers, you never really know what to expect!  We would soon be spending forty hours a week together for the next three months, so it’s kind of important that we get along.

About a week into the summer internship, I realized this group of people were some of the funniest, kindest, most goofy people I’ve ever been around. After one week of working with them we were already laughing endlessly together, oversharing details of our lives, talking about future goals and aspirations, and did I mention laughing endlessly together? I’ve had many co-workers before and I have always made it a goal to get along with them. Here at The Outdoor Campus, I’ve hardly had to try. It’s like I had known these people my entire life; they made me feel comfortable and welcomed.


This summer has been one to remember. All of my co-workers, not just the interns, have made this summer fun and enjoyable. We all have a relationship that transcends talking only when we work. We have had fun even outside of work. So, really, I don’t go to work everyday to work with my co-workers; I wake up every day to live a new day with great friends. To everyone I have encountered this summer at The Outdoor Campus, thank you so much for making this summer one I’ll never forget. To anyone who is saying to themselves “I want a work environment like that,” well guess what…you can! Apply for an internship or volunteer at The Outdoor Campus! It has been one of the most rewarding positions I have had. The combination of awesome coworkers, awesome classes, and being outside every day can’t be beat.


Hi! My name is Travis Miller and I am currently a senior double major in Mathematics and Education at Augustana College here in Sioux Falls. I like spaghetti and chocolate chip cookies. Along with my love of math, I love to sing, be outdoors, run, laugh, smile and make others smile.

My Favorite Class: Wet N’ Wild

7 Aug

By Erica Jurgensen

It’s always alarming when we hear about kids never getting the experience of exploring nature. Too often these kids grow up in a world where they are either afraid to explore or are too involved in technology to notice the beautiful world we live in. That’s why I always enjoy teaching at The Outdoor Campus; I get to see these kids being excited to learn about the world so many people their age ignore.IMG_3050

One particular class that I enjoy teaching is our Wet ‘n’ Wild class. In this class the kids get to learn all about different organisms that live in our creeks. They do this by looking at different samples that we have in test tubes and learn how to identify them. It is so much fun watching the kids act like scientists! After we practice identifying samples we put on our boots, grab our nets and walk down to the oxbow. This is where the real excitement begins.

The kids get to scoop their nets into the water and examine the creatures that they find. I can’t help but smile as I watch the kids work as a group to identify the creature. It’s even more fun to watch a child that is “afraid” of bugs pick one up to take a closer look.  Almost every time I teach this class, and no matter how many times I warn them, somebody always seems to get stuck in the mud and fall into the water. It makes for a fun, messy time. Even the kids that claim they are afraid to touch bugs or get dirty come out laughing.Landscape 2

That’s why I love teaching this class; we never know what we might find, but the kids still have fun learning no matter what!

What Will You do at OU?

29 Jul

Outdoor University is our biggest event of the year, as you likely know courtesy of our not shutting up about it on Twitter and Facebook for weeks beforehand.  That’s our bad…we just can’t contain our excitement! It seemed like a good idea to try and help you understand what it is about this event that gets us all so amped up, so we asked OU veteran staff members about their favorite parts of our favorite day.


Director Thea Miller Ryan: “Being outside all day with people who love the outdoors.”

Regional Supervisor Emmett Keyser: “Getting to see the kids let the toads from the touch tanks go in the pond at the end of the day.”HillaryOU

Senior Secretary Hillary Fernholz: “Seeing how excited the little kids are about everything.”


Outreach Naturalist Intern Brian Long: “Teaching the kids how to clean fish and game.”

Community & Group Program Coordinator Derek Klawitter: “Seeing whole families, together, learning about outdoor activities, especially fishing and archery.”EricaOU

Naturalist Intern Erica Jurgensen: “The rock climbing wall!”


Volunteer Coordinator Intern Monica Boyer: “Seeing how many people come out wanting to learn more about what we do here.”

Volunteer Coordinator Rachel Chamblin: “The excited kids. Even kids standing in long lines for activities like kayaking are so excited. I’ve never heard a complaint.”KahrynOU

Naturalist Intern Kahryn Ragsdale: “Seeing people try new things and be excited!”

Naturalist Sandy Richter: “Hearing happy kids scream with excitement.”LynnOU

Secretary Lynn Purdy: “Seeing people have fun and get excited, and also the magnificent birds of prey that the Black Hills Raptor Center brings and puts on display. You can’t miss it!”

Outdoor University is this Saturday, August 1, from 9 am to 4 pm. We can’t wait to see you there.

Benefits of Volunteering at TOC

24 Jul

By Monica Boyer

Bracelets 11 The Outdoor Campus Women's Try It Day 2013

One of the most important parts of The Outdoor Campus is our volunteer program. We have over two hundred people that give their time to us.  As of July 24, our volunteers have served 91,746 hours at The Outdoor Campus.  As the Volunteered Coordinator Assistant Intern, I am always so amazed at how committed our volunteers are. They don’t mind getting their hands covered in dirt or putting their muscles to the test by carrying kayaks and canoes.  Our volunteers have given so much to us that I wondered: what keeps them coming back?

  1. Getting people involved in the outdoors

One of our Volunteer Interview questions is, “What made you want to volunteer at The Outdoor Campus?” One of my favorite answers to this question is when the new volunteer talks about how much they love the outdoors and how they want other people to love it too. Our volunteers get to help kids discover new interests and develop lifelong skills.


  1. Paying it forward

Many of our volunteers took classes at TOC before they entered our volunteer program. As former class participants, they remember looking up to the volunteers and being in awe of how much they knew about the outdoors. When they volunteer for classes they can return the favor by helping the kids, just as they were helped when they were the ones participating in class.

  1. Meeting new people

As a volunteer, you meet other volunteers, staff members, visitors and other people from the community. Just the other day, a volunteer was telling me about how she’d met a family from Hawaii that wanted to know all about South Dakota wildlife.   Throughout the year, we have volunteer appreciation parties where the volunteers get recognized for their service and get to spend time with their fellow volunteers. It is always nice to see the volunteers making new friends and bonding over their love for the outdoors.

  1. Exciting Opportunities

Volunteers can move on to become Volunteer Instructors or Interns. Volunteer Instructors are current volunteers that teach their own classes. Once a volunteer is a sophomore in college they can apply to be a Naturalist Intern, Horticultural Intern, Outreach Naturalist Intern, or Volunteer Coordinator Assistant Intern. Becoming an Intern is a great way to continue your service to TOC, and to get an education and paycheck while doing it!


  1. Having fun!

Volunteering at TOC always leads to fun! Our volunteers and staff always find a way to enjoy themselves.  What better way than to spend your summer than outdoors with our amazing staff and volunteers. Some of our volunteer’s favorite class include fishing, kayaking and snow skiing. Also, there is always something to munch on in the breakroom. Our volunteers and moms love to give us food! Yummy!


With all these reason to keep returning to TOC, it’s no surprise that some of our volunteers have been with us since we opened in 1997. Each month we get new volunteers that are enthusiastic about donating their time to The Outdoor Campus. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, you can visit our website http://gfp.sd.gov/outdoor-learning/outdoor-campus/east/volunteers/default.aspx and click the “Apply Now” link.

Regarding the Fire

16 Jul 11745476_10205963162890726_1401518633841381839_n

As you’ve likely heard by now, we had a slight mishap here at The Outdoor Campus last weekend.

Our kayak shed—and all the kayaks, paddles, life jackets and waterfowl decoys therein—was burned to the ground, along with all but one of our canoes. While we haven’t heard official word, due to the lack of electricity or gas near the scene and to the recent vandalism in the park, arson is suspected.IMG_1144

Luckily, one canoe escaped the blaze, and the trailer is being repaired by the wonderful guys at the GFP Shop. Still, the loss is substantial. IMG_1156

We lost twenty-one kayaks, seven canoes, one tandem kayak, around eighty lifejackets, ninety paddles and over one hundred decoys. We’re working on replacing the equipment and rebuilding the shed; in the meantime, we’re renting storage pods and making sure that we’ll be completely ready for kayaking and canoeing lessons by Outdoor University on August 1.P1130913

Paddling classes are canceled through the end of this week, and we’ll be re-evaluating when to start them up again after the weekend. We’re determined to not let this set us back for long, and putting the damage behind us and returning our class schedule back to normal is our highest priority.P1130922

Finally, we want to express our immense gratitude to the community of Sioux Falls for how they’ve supported us over the past few days. We’ve received loads of generous donations, along with comments and condolences from people who love and appreciate the work we do. It’s humbling to see the effects our efforts have had on the community, and nothing is more rewarding than hearing about the positive associations so many individuals and families have developed with The Outdoor Campus.  OUkayakpond

Thanks again, and rest easy knowing that we’ll be teaching Sioux Falls to love and respect the outdoors for years to come.

8 Cool Things You Can Find at The Outdoor Campus and Sertoma Park

10 Jul

By Sam Williams

You know on TV shows, when a person needs to make up a fake name on the spot, and they look around and concoct a name from their immediate surroundings, like Speaker Staplerpen or Sharpie Computerphone? This is the blog post version of that. I took a walk around the building, the park and the trails on a daring quest to find neat stuff to tell you about. Here’s a list of that stuff.

  • The Big Fish

There’s a huge plastic fish in our museum area; its open mouth is snagged on a giant plastic hook, and it’s hollowed out so people can walk through it and see a realistic depiction of a fish’s organs. It’s actually a pretty morbid exhibit when you think about it. Kids love it!


  • The Big Tree

The Big Tree is a tree just off the prairie trail. It’s super big; that’s why we call it the Big Tree. It’s actually been determined that it’s made up of several individual trees that were too close together and ended up growing into one another.

  • Animal Dens

If you take a walk along the park’s trails, you’re bound to see lots of small, hollowed out areas in the bottoms or along the trunks of some trees. These are dens for a variety of animals, like squirrels, owls and raccoons. While you should never reach your hand into one, they’re fun to look out for and you will potentially see some animals hanging around.


  • Tree of Guts

The Tree of Guts is located along the bank of the Oxbow, deeper into the woods past the Big Tree. The Tree of Guts earned its charming moniker due to the gaping opening in its side that lets one see into its innards. One theory is that it was originally a V-shaped tree, but that one half of the “v” split and fell, leaving the open wound we see now.

treeofguts (1)

  • Lena the Bunny

Lena is a year-old black and white Dutch rabbit who we use to help teach classes on mammals and animal adaptations. You should come see her because she’s very cute.


  • The Cloud Garden

The Cloud Garden is a little circle of grass enclosed by plants near the playscape. It’s a designated space for lying down, watching the clouds and letting your troubles breeze away. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Aren’t I in a park? Couldn’t I lie down in the grass virtually anywhere else in the park and do the exact same thing?” Yes, but we made a sign and everything so just humor us here, ok?


  • Woodpecker Hotel

Woodpecker Hotel is the third and final tree on our list. It’s near the wooden bridge that leads to the prairie trail. It’s leafless at the top, and you can see an array of woodpecker holes that serve as home to the birds and the occasional intruding squirrel. If you happen to have a camera or lens with powerful zoom, the Hotel is a great place to take photos.

  • Sertoma Signs

There are the obvious, typical playground attractions at Sertoma, but there are also a number of plaques explaining the park’s fun applications of science and astronomy, as well as a few that tell the interesting history of the park.


Sam Williams is a public relations intern this summer at The Outdoor Campus, and spends his free time looking out the window like he’s thinking deep thoughts when he’s actually thinking about lunch.

5 Great Reasons to Go Camping

2 Jul campstockfire

By Sam Williams

Camping, on face, doesn’t seem like a logical way to spend your time. You work hard all week to afford a place to live so you don’t have to sleep outside on the ground in a park, and then you spend the weekend sleeping outside on the ground in a park. Luckily for all of us, fun is never logical; if you only did logical stuff you would never play sports or eat cake, and you’d only read non-fiction books and everyone would be kind of scared of you.

At The Outdoor Campus, we love camping because it combines our favorite place—outside—with the perfect opportunity to do all our favorite activities, from fishing to kayaking to hiking and more. We want everyone to get as much joy from camping as we do, so we’ve put together a list of reasons why you’ll want to head out to the campground sometime soon.campstockfire

  • Switching It Up

A good way to convince yourself to give camping a try is to consider your alternatives. The vast majority of us have a routine for our weekends, spending one after the other at the golf course, downtown, in a buddy’s basement or wherever else you’ve grown comfortable. A weekend outside and away from the familiar can be a perfect way to inject some much-needed excitement into your life.

  • The Great Outdoors

Ditching the beauty of a big-screen TV and indoor plumbing for a weekend offers the opportunity to instead take in the beauty of the great outdoors. It turns out the trees and the sunset and the stars are a lot more vivid in person than they are on Instagram, no matter how skilled you are with filters.


  • Fun with the Fam

Family, friends, partners, whomever; they’re all great candidates to bring along on a weekend of fun. The kind of shared experiences one can only have with a group of loved ones in the great outdoors are those that become lifelong memories. It’s also a great way to get kids active in the short term while also instilling a love of healthy hobbies like hiking and rock climbing that they can take with them into the future.


  • Fire and Food

Health isn’t everything, though, and no camping trip is complete without a little open fire-roasted gluttony. Hot dogs, burgers, grilled cheese and s’mores are essential meals when it comes to crafting a perfect camping trip. And you’ll need that energy for a long night around the campfire telling spooky stories about the group of campers who went missing on a night just…like…tonight…


  • Reflect and Recharge

Apart from the simple joys of getting out, getting active, eating s’mores and terrifying children, there’s a profound personal benefit that comes with leaving the worries of the week behind, both physically and mentally. Planning a weekend of camping can help you deal with stress from both directions; it gives you something to look forward to at the end of the work week, while also giving you a chance to recover and recharge once the weekend finally comes. Having a simple, enjoyable time with your favorite people can both relax you and help remind you about what’s really important in your life.

Sam Williams is a public relations intern this summer at The Outdoor Campus, and spends his free time reading non-fiction books and terrifying children.


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