Women’s Try-WHAT Day?

The Outdoor Campus Women's Try it Day New Banner 2013By Thea Miller Ryan
If you have a child, you know how hard it is to convince them to try something new. My daughter balked at peas, tuna, roller coasters and being anywhere near a costumed character when she was little. Just the other day she told me how much she loved eggs. EGGS? She HATED eggs. When did that happen?

When she tried them, she said.

I was afraid to shoot a gun the first time. I was afraid to paddle a canoe down the river. I was afraid to take a fish off a hook the first time. But then, I tried it. It was fun. It wasn’t always easy, but it was doable. And man, did I feel good after I accomplished it.

That’s one of the reasons we’re putting on Women’s Try-It Day this weekend (June 29, 9-noon) – we want to give all the ladies a chance to try something new. For the fifth year in a row, we’re offering canoeing, kayaking, fishing, fly casting, shooting air rifles, bb guns, archery, outdoor cooking, creating outdoor art, making survival bracelets, knot tying and geocaching. I bet there’s something on that list you haven’t tried yet.

In addition to that, you’ll have a chance to meet the person in charge of SD Game, Fish and Parks’ Becoming an Outdoors-Woman camp. She’ll be here to explain how the long weekend offers hands-on introductory classes to women in a non-intimidating supportive, environment. You’ll also meet some ladies who love the outdoors so much they started a club. Outdoor Women of South Dakota is a great place to take your new Try-It Day skills on an even bigger adventure.

Stop by the main Outdoor Campus building Saturday from 9 to noon. You’ll just fill out a short waiver, get a wrist band, and you can go outside and try something new. If you get here early enough, you can get one of our really cool t-shirts we’re giving away, too.

Come on out Saturday and try it!


Rekindling a Passion for the Outdoors

By Matthew Stoffel

Working for The Outdoor Campus has been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a great deal, and I’m sure I’ll learn plenty more. The work is exciting, the challenges are stimulating and I’m getting paid to do things I love.

As a bonus to all of that, I’m getting outside again. While the caricature of today’s youth being sheltered indoors and glued to a computer screen isn’t always accurate, I do sometimes see it in myself. Over the past few years, I’ve become more attached to technology. Between college classes and several theatre productions I didn’t find time to get outside simply to be outside.

Last summer I worked as a lifeguard at an outdoor pool, pulling giant shifts to keep building summer savings. As a result, the great outdoors became my office. At the end of a long day telling kids to walk and fiddling with my whistle, I wanted nothing but to laze about inside. The sun drained my energy throughout the long hours, and I was so tired after work I rarely did anything.

Back in high school I ran cross country and track. I was a long distance addict, and I’d be out running 2 hours every day. I’d cover anywhere from 3 to 10 miles an outing, and the exposure to nature was healthy for me. I was in great shape and I loved to be able to escape into the scenery.

But I’ve lost touch with that in the last couple of years. I lost touch with it to the point of not realizing anything was missing.

The Outdoor Campus, as its namesake suggests, changes that.

To get outside in the early morning, to start a day breathing the cool trail air has reminded me how stale inside air can be. The chance to kayak down a river has awoken my passion for the water. Seeing how inspired other people are by the world around them has made me stop and appreciate the beauty of nature, whether through the lens of a camera or for my own private wonderment. Watching kids catch a fish, eyes lighting up with pride, delight, excitement, I remembered the spark I used to have for fishing, for the outdoors.

I went home for a short visit the other day. I grew up beside the water of a small lake in Minnesota. For the first time in a few years I felt compelled to buy a fishing license. I went out on the water with my brother and my cousin. We found a quiet spot to cast around, enjoying the water.

I’d fished on this lake for years and caught the same thing. Crappie, bluegills, perch, an occasional Walleye, rough fish.

Then, for the first time in nineteen years, I hooked a bass. It hit and put up a good fight, but I landed it, heart pounding. It’s ridiculous, really, that it had taken me so long to find one. But however much it might speak to my ability as an angler doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that as I held the fish up for my brother to take a picture, I felt pride. Delight. Excitement.

And that spark I was so sure I smothered after years indoors came alive again. It was rekindled and burned anew.

This time, I’m keeping it lit.

The Outdoor Campus PR Intern Matthew Stoffel, Bass

“Bald Eagle Awareness Days” Event at The Outdoor Campus

University of Minnesota's Raptor Center visits The Outdoor Campus
University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center visits The Outdoor Campus

On Sunday, June 23 at 1:30 p.m., Bald Eagle Awareness Days will be hosting a program in our theatre. The Outdoor Campus program is one of three statewide taking place from June 21-23, rescheduled from original dates in February.

Following programs in Madison and Pierre, educators from the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota will be bringing live birds of prey to The Outdoor Campus. Last year’s program brought four birds to The Outdoor Campus for a presentation, and more than 1,200 people attended birds of prey programs for BEAD statewide.

The event’s goal is to increase public involvement and awareness about bald eagles and other birds of prey across all age groups.

No preregistration is required for the event on Sunday, and seating is limited, so arrive early to get in on this fun learning opportunity.

This weekend marks the twenty-first consecutive year of BEAD. For more information on BEAD, visit http://gfp.sd.gov/outdoor-learning/bald-eagle-awareness-days/default.aspx?utm_source=iContact&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GFP%20News&utm_content=

We hope to see you Sunday.

Learning to Respect Elders, iPhone Style

By Matthew Stoffel

I think I’m starting to find a rhythm here at The Outdoor Campus, which is not to say I’ve found a routine. There isn’t a routine to be had for my job. It’s going to be more about juggling a bunch of projects without letting any fall.

One thing I’ve tried to consistently juggle is the coverage of our monarch butterfly eggs/caterpillars on Twitter. The growth process is intriguing, and lends itself to Twitter; it becomes an informal documentation of growth. So far, I’ve been getting decent pictures of the little guys, even when they were only the size of pinpoints as eggs. This was accomplished with the Lumix camera provided by TOC.

But today, I thought I would get a really strong shot. I ran track and cross country in high school. Neither sport lends to photography without putting up a fight, as the constant motion of running will make full focus a nightmare. When my younger brother also joined the sports, my supportive dad decided to get a top-notch Sony camera in order to get quality pictures of us. He was successful, but when my brother finished up his senior season of track and graduated high school a few weeks ago, the need for a heavy duty camera dissipated. Thanks to my father’s generosity, this was a gain for me in my efforts at TOC for the summer.

One of my first ideas of how to try out the Sony was to get a gorgeous close-up of one of the caterpillars. I figured between the two lenses, it’d be a piece of cake. However, neither could get a crisp focus zoomed in on such a small target. The quality wouldn’t be any better than what I had been getting with the Lumix. The pictures would still be passable, but I was downcast that I couldn’t improve.

As I was still trying to refocus and adjust distance in denial, Ken, a retired volunteer who works at our front desk and is a fine, experienced photographer, told me that I should use an iPhone. Now, I don’t know how old Ken is, but as a 21 year old college student, I decided that I probably knew more about iPhone’s than Ken. Sure, he knew photography – I’d just taken a course he taught on it last week. But the iPhone was a little out of his comfort zone, and I assumed he was misled on the topic. The iPhone camera is gorgeous compared to other phone cameras, but the idea of it getting a cleaner shot than one of my two camera-camera options was laughable.

At first.

As the day went on, I realized I was stalling a tweet on the caterpillars because of my disappointment with my morning shots. As I walked by the monarchs to return to my office from another task, I figured, why not?

I got one of the milkweed leaves with a larger caterpillar out and used my iPhone to focus a nice picture. In case you’ve never used an iPhone camera, I should clarify; to focus, you simply touch the part of screen you want focused. The “simple” camera almost immediately displayed a clearer image than I had obtained with either of the other cameras. Remembering Ken’s example, which was close-up of a coin, cleaner than anything he said his equipment could take, I set a bright penny next to the caterpillar for a size comparison.

Monarch Caterpillar

My hat is off to Ken. I’m still young, and there’s a lot to be learned from those with more experience than me.

Even about the things I “definitely” know more about.

Teddy Roosevelt Launches “I <3 TOC"

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America, national trailblazer environmentalist, took a break from his nation wide campaign with South Dakota Tourism to show his appreciation for The Outdoor Campus using the “I ❤ TOC” questionnaire.

Teddy launching I <3 TOC

“When someone visits The Outdoor Campus, the first place they should go is the museum, to appreciate the fine taxidermy. Early morning is the best time to visit The Outdoor Campus because you can get on the trails just as the woods are waking. The best place to spend time at The Outdoor Campus is out on the trails – in the thick of it all! The Outdoor Campus loves teaching people about wildlife, and the importance of conservation and education. I learned to take photographs with this new “digital” technology. The Outdoor Campus really knows how to create an excellent outdoor escape right in the backyard of a great city. You can tell if someone is from The Outdoor Campus if they share my passion for naturalist studies. Finding natural wildlife so close to wonderful people excited to tell you about it right in the city could only happen at The Outdoor Campus. In the winter you should swim in the Big Sioux. After all, I skinny-dipped in the Potomac!

In 140 characters or less, the world should ❤ The Outdoor Campus because it’s a place you can keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground."

Public Relations Intern Ready for Summer

By Matthew Stoffel

Matt Stoffel, public relations intern, summer 2013
Matt Stoffel, public relations intern, summer 2013

I’m looking out the window of my office here at the end of my sixth day of work at The Outdoor Campus. I was incredibly fortunate to land the job as their Public Relations Intern this summer, as a lot of hesitancy on my part made me late for most applications. The idea that I can type “I’m looking out the window of my office” is baffling. But now I can’t think of a better scenario.My hesitancy in applying for jobs had several causes, but the most pertinent was a lack of confidence in my experience. I didn’t think I was ready at this point to do the things most places would ask of me.

Even though I’m studying journalism in college, I didn’t know if my writing was where it needed to be. I was unsure if personal experience and a few side projects would be sufficient for social media work. I didn’t have previous work experience that really fell in line with my area of study.

Now, 6 days in, I can confidently say that I’m not fully prepared. I don’t quite have the hang of everything. I’m stumbling as I walk. But I’m quickly realizing you don’t learn to walk without stumbling. My skills aren’t exactly where they need to be for all the projects I’ll be tackling this summer – but they’re going to get there.

That’s the point of an internship. It’s a practicum, an apprenticeship. It is trial by fire. When I don’t know how to do something, I’m not a failure. I figure it out. I ask for help, and there is plenty of help around. The staff here is close knit – which can be daunting until you realize they’re close because they’re kind people who care about one another, and care about you too. Everyone is willing to answer questions with patience and genuine interest in my understanding. It’s no surprise the staff’s mission is “to provide education.”

As I look ahead at the tasks of the summer, I get a feeling in my stomach, a feeling I could mistake for fear. With all the anxiety of this past school year, the present feeling has definitely settled in a familiar spot. But “nerves” wouldn’t cover this. This is excitement. Vibrant anticipation.

I look ahead at the opportunities afforded to me by challenge and triumph, as well as the things I’ll learn. Six days in, and this experience has been rich. I am having fun, I am learning and most practically minded of all, I’m getting paid. I am ready to take on the summer and all of the assignments, projects and problems that come with the job title. I am excited to have cause again to use the word “excited.” The opportunity to work at an institution like this is exhilarating.

I’m not at the point yet where I can say this place has changed me, but I’m at the point where I can see it will, and I am beckoning it with open arms.

I look forward to being this summer’s Public Relations Intern, and sharing some of my musings on the experience here on the blog.