Cultivating Natural Connections
If you’re reading this magazine, chances are good you feel an affinity to the Wasatch Mountains. Whether that bond developed while carving a turn through feather-light snow or while pedaling your mountain bike along a local singletrack, the result is pretty universal: positive outdoor experiences foster the ties that bind us to nature. This is especially true when learning happens outdoors, a phenomenon known as place-based education, which also cultivates curiosity, social-emotional growth, and a sense of responsibility to the earth.
In 2019, based on their vision to “connect children and families to the wonder, recreational, and educational opportunities of the Wasatch Mountains,” Wayne Turner and Jack Shea, two former leaders at Jackson, Wyoming’s Teton Science School, founded the Wasatch Mountain Institute (wasatchmountain
institute.org). Through a partnership with Utah State Parks, WMI renovated and reopened Jordanelle State Park’s Rock Cliff Nature Center, which had been closed due to flood damage since 2018. Rock Cliff now serves as homebase for WMI’s place-based field science and ecology programs for 5th and 6th graders, and it’s also open to the public.
Since then, WMI’s CEO Hilary Lambert has hired six instructors who have guided more than 1,100 students through outdoor science and recreation field trips. WMI also launched a mobile gear library, allowing all kids to participate in its outdoor programming regardless of the weather or what outdoor gear they own.
In 2023, WMI will expand its partnerships with school districts to provide day field trips to include overnight camping experiences as well. “In the first year we were up and running, response for what we do has been overwhelmingly positive,” Lambert says. “We are looking forward to enhancing our program offerings and getting even more kids outdoors in 2023.”