Outdoor Lab

Some call it a salamander, others say it is a lizard - but either way, it is the mascot of the Arlington Outdoor Lab, a facility in Fauquier County that gives students from Arlington a taste of natural surroundings. (Arlington Outdoor Education Association photo)

Schools may be locked up tight, and field trips are most definitely off the table, but the non-profit organization that operates the Arlington Outdoor Lab says it is persevering through the COVID crisis and will be ready to welcome back students when the time arrives.

“Like everyone else, we are disappointed – however, ‘this too shall pass,’” said Todd Parker, president of the Arlington Outdoor Education Association, which operates the 225-acre rural retreat in Fauquier County, noting that he believes the school system remains committed to its half-century-plus partnership with the organization.

In an ordinary year, students at specific grade levels are treated to visits (some of them overnight) to the facility, events that often are described by those who took them as among the highlights of their school days.

This year, however, the organization – led by Outdoor Lab director Michele Karnbach – is providing “virtual field trips” that students can complete on their own as a way to bridge the gap while student travel is prohibited by the county school system.

“They are filled with videos, presentations, questions and quizzes that have a very similar flavor to a trip to the lab,” the organization said in a recent newsletter.

Additional projects are being sketched out, designed to make lemonade out of lemons, Parker philosophically noted.

In the midst of the COVID crisis, leaders of the Arlington Outdoor Education Association met with new Arlington Superintendent Francisco Durán, and came away feeling he was “very supportive” of a continued partnership, Parker said.

However, the relationship between the school system and the Outdoor Lab seems to always run into rocky shoals during years in which the school system receives less funding than it wants from the county government – something that occurred this year and is likely to happen next year, as well. Durán’s predecessor, Patrick Murphy, on occasion saw the Outdoor Lab as a way to cut costs, much as he also did with the David M. Brown Planetarium.

Whenever those proposals bubbled up, public outrage caused school officials to back down (although in the case of the planetarium, the school system offloaded much of the cost to a nonprofit organization of volunteers.)

The Arlington Outdoor Education Association was founded in 1967 by Phoebe Hall Knipling, then the county school system’s top science staffer. She saw the need, in a community that even then was beginning to see the impact of urbanization, to give Arlington students a real-world outlet to study nature, ecosystems and wildlife.

Currently, the school system provides teachers and staff who work at the lab, while the Arlington Outdoor Education Association raises funds to cover operating costs and maintenance.

The next fund-rasier, to be held in collaboration with Barnes & Noble, will be held Dec. 5-9. For information, see the Website at www.outdoorlab.org.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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