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Students from Milton-Freewater released young salmon into the Umatilla River at Outdoor School in June. Graham Banks, center, is outreach coordinator with Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council. He teaches students in their classrooms about the fish, then helps with the release event.

Schools in Umatilla and other Oregon counties have used Outdoor School at Buck Creek for close to half a century. Now a $30,000 grant is going to help that continue.

Michele Madril, spokeswoman for InterMountain Education Service District, said her agency received $20,000 from the Portland-based Gray Family Foundation, which focuses on engaging Oregonians in the outdoors and instilling environmental literacy in the state’s school children.

The service district is contributing $10,000 in labor to accomplish a number of projects, Madril said.

The biggest task will be to rid the camp’s cookhouse of material containing asbestos, including flooring and countertops. New paint will go on, and new appliances installed, she said.

Improvements will include new campfire benches and picnic tables, a new water heater and grounds clean up at the camp along the Umatilla River, about 35 miles outside of Pendleton.

Larry Glaze is the ESD’s director of operations and facilities, and he estimates the Buck Creek facility to be about 75 years old. His crew has been working there since the end of the school year, Glaze said.

Although the property belongs to the U.S. Forest Service, the ESD has leased the 654 acres since 2001. The projects planned for this summer will make the area more inviting to school districts, he said.

“Everybody loves the historic Outdoor School buildings, but there comes a time when deferred maintenance really needs to be addressed. Like a lot of Forest Service properties, there’s not a lot of budget to keep these things up.”

Fifth-graders from the Milton-Freewater Unified School District have attended Outdoor School the first full week of June for the past two years, said Ferndale Elementary School Principal Don Davis.

The opportunity to do so comes from Oregon’s lottery funds, thanks to a bill recently passed by voters that pays for

each student in the state to attend an

outdoor school of some type, Davis said today.

Due to the time frame for his students, the week at Buck Creek tends to feel celebratory, both because state testing is over for the year and because kids get to release the young salmon they’ve been raising in classrooms, the principal said.

There is also a lot of hiking and sightseeing, he added.

This past spring, almost 500 students participated in the ESD’s Outdoor School, Madril said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.