Water Canyon in northern Nevada, 2,000 feet above the town of Winnemucca
For the past 15 years, Nevada Outdoor School (NOS) has provided outdoor environmental education programs for school-age children in northern Nevada. Through classroom programs, field trips and summer camps, the nonprofit aims to connect young people to the outdoors through place-based learning and Leave No Trace initiatives.
They mainly provide education programs to rural communities in Humboldt, Lander and Elko Counties in Nevada and they work with federal and state land management agencies, as well as local schools, to get youth outdoors.
As Melanie Erquiaga, Executive Director for the nonprofit, described, their mission allows them to deliver powerful and impactful experiences:
“There’s nothing better than being able to provide a child’s first, positive experience in the outdoors. Whether it’s a hike to Lamoille or Water Canyon or a field trip to learn about watersheds at Battle Mountain, we’re helping these kids connect with their environment.”
NOS provides outdoor environmental education programs to school children in rural communities in Nevada.
Melanie also explained that the role of NOS is even more important because of how rural these communities are.
“This is frontier country,” she said, with complete seriousness. Throughout the region, the largest city of Elko, NV has less than 20,000 people. Several of the schools they work with are one room schoolhouses and it is difficult for these small populations to find programs that allow students to investigate and interpret their natural surroundings.
This past year, NOS provided 540 programs to 16 schools and is in the midst of implementing a variety of programs to students in the 2017 - 2018 calendar year, expanding into new schools and communities across rural, northern Nevada.
In addition to their education programs with youth, NOS also has a strong statewide Outdoor Ethics Program providing Leave No Trace and Treadlightly! training to the public, as well as, ATV, OHV and Dirt Bike Safety training.
"This program is a great example of how several government agencies and a single small town non-profit can come together to support positive and ethical use of our public lands for generations to come," Melanie said.
NOS receives funding from BLM, USFS, Nevada Division of State Parks, and the Nevada OHV Commission to deliver the message of outdoor ethics in a positive and engaging way and travels statewide to deliver this training.
Strengthening Communities through AmeriCorps
Since 2007, NOS has also served as the main hub for AmeriCorps programs in the region. Through this program, NOS places AmeriCorps members in organizations in rural northern Nevada to serve as environmental stewards, educators, mentors and caregivers.
This year, NOS oversees an impressive 41 AmeriCorps members who serve full, part-time, or seasonal positions in the region. According to their AmeriCorps Program Director, Zulma Mayorga, the program has supported the core work of NOS:
“Part of the NOS mission is about creating environmental stewards and connecting them with their communities. Through this program, we’re able to provide for the communities’ needs and we believe that, the healthier these communities are, the more they can be better stewards of their environments.”
NOS places AmeriCorps members at 11 partner organizations such as Friends of Black Rock - High Rock and Friends of Nevada Wilderness, as well as at senior centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, local schools, and more.
These members are both local to the region and from across the country, bringing with them a variety of backgrounds. Zulma explained that a significant part of her role as Director is to make sure these members are placed in the right positions and that they feel supported.
“We promote the mindset that even though we come from different places, we are all learning from each other in this experience. Our dedication to the communities and our commitment to improving the lives of the people here in Nevada are what binds our AmeriCorps members together,” she said.
How a Dutch Oven Cook-Off Brings People Together
Every August, NOS hosts a Dutch Oven Cook-Off in Winnemucca to raise funds for their organization and show off the impressive chef skills of the community members. This past year, they had more than 300 people attend and 20 teams came together to cook with friends and family and compete for cash prizes and bragging rights. This event is also a sanctioned International Dutch Oven Society event where the winners in the “three-dish” category can go on to compete in the World Championship Dutch Oven Cook-Off in Utah the following year.
“This is a fun event that gets people excited to be outside with their community,” Melanie explained. “On the one hand, it’s really neat to see families come up with delicious food, like mushroom-stuffed, gorgonzola flank steak, and on the other hand, this event gives us an opportunity to talk about our work and why NOS exists.”
In 2018, NOS will celebrate their 10th annual cook-off and they look forward to making it the best event yet.
To learn more about Nevada Outdoor School’s efforts (and to get in line for their next dutch oven cook-off in 2018), visit http://www.nevadaoutdoorschool.org.