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More than 400 gather for a free day of outdoor learning and exploration at Hopkins Demonstration Forest

OSU Extension Master Gardeners discuss plant species in the native garden they planted at the Hopkins Demonstration Forest. More than 400 home-school students and families gathered for a free day of outdoor learning and exploration at Hopkins Demonstration Forest, just 15 miles south of Oregon City in Beavercreek.

"This is our first-ever Homeschool Day, where students from across the region get to come out to Hopkins and enjoy 140 acres of self-guided exploration and inquiry," said Peter Matzka, forestry educator with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

On May 16, volunteers manned 15 stations throughout the forest offering hands-on educational activities for grades 2-12, including map and compass reading, native plant identification, sawmill production, healthy snack-making, tree measurement, aquatic invertebrates, animal track identification, forest art and more.

"It feels like Outdoor School in a day, said Jennifer Lundblad, a home-school parent from Boring. "It's nice to be able to school outdoors and get them into the environment. It's a little different than a textbook."

COURTESY PHOTO - Kids spin a wheel then answer questions about healthy snacks before making trail mix. Students were just as excited about the outdoor learning experience.

"My favorite part was identifying all the different plants and seeing the creatures in the water, said Natalie Best, a 14-year-old home-school student from Portland. "I had no idea there were so many creatures in a pond!"

Because it was a pilot program for Hopkins, the event was not advertised, but word spread quickly throughout the home-school community. Families assemble dry ingredients for a rice-and-bean meal that they can make with a warm pouch on the trail. Organizers were stunned when the registration numbers hit 400 and made a last-minute push to recruit enough volunteers to meet the demand. They were not disappointed. OSU Extension Service Master Gardeners, food and nutrition educators, foresters and many more rallied to help with the forest field day.

"It was a surprising success," according to Matzka, who coordinated the event. "I think we will do this every fall and spring, and I'm looking forward to engaging these groups again, because we found that this was definitely a needed day and activity in the woods."

Watch a video of the visit at or below:

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