For more than 30 years, seventh-graders at Roland-Story Middle School have enjoyed a special trip to Springbrook State Park. But that trip is becoming a thing of the past.


Students and chaperones alike have been fond of the overnight trip to the Springbrook Conservation Education Center. This year’s seventh-graders experienced the trip in late October.


But the school’s reservations for next year’s trip were cancelled recently by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.


“The center is closing down,” said Brian Town, RSMS principal. “We will be choosing something different to offer to our seventh-graders next year. But this trip has been going on for a long, long time, and I know people are going to be disappointed about this.”


In correspondence to the school, the DNR said it will “no longer provide overnight accommodations or programming at the center.” The DNR’s decision was effective March 13.


The adjacent Springbrook State Park will remain open, and the DNR will continue to offer daytime programming at the park, according to Todd Coffelt, chief of the DNR Parks Bureau.


The education center at Springbrook was built in 1969 to train Iowa teachers in outdoor programming, so they could then offer the curriculums to their students. Over the years, it evolved into a place for school children to participate in hands-on environmental education activities with their teachers.


Kris Vinson, a seventh-grade science teacher at the middle school, estimates Roland-Story students have been going to Springbrook for between 32 and 35 years.


“It is a very memorable field trip for a lot of students,” Vinson said. “Some of the activities we have participated in over the 17 years I’ve been at Roland-Story include shelter building, campfire building, archery, star gazing and night hikes, first aid, Tall Tales, camouflage game, hunting ‘carmeleetas,’ dissecting animal pellets, orienteering, ‘How many can come to dinner?,’ outdoor survival, food chain game, secret places, scavenger hunts, populations and resources game, and team building.”


Roland-Story has been a regular customer for the overnight trip, but the DNR said this isn’t the case for other schools in the state.


During the last decade, the education center has seen a steady declined of school groups using the facility. Today, less than half of the groups using the education center are school groups.


Springbrook is still offering day visits so a “mini version” of the trip might be a possibility in the future. The distance and travel time may make it difficult for R-S to use that option.


“The DNR rep at Springbrook also mentioned we could look into Threshold Learning Center near Zearing as another option for a similar type of trip,” Vinson said. “With having just recently found out about Springbrook Conservation Education Center closing, we as a seventh-grade team of teachers have not had a chance to investigate other field trip options. This is something we will be looking into later this spring with input from Mr. Town.”


Vinson said she is sad that the upcoming seventh-graders will not have the chance to experience Springbrook.


“It is a very memorable trip,” she said. “There were lots of fun activities allowing kids and chaperones opportunities to try new things, develop better teamwork skills and enjoy nature.


“It has been a great getting to know the DNR staff and cooks over the years. They are a wonderful, talented staff. They definitely have a love for nature and kids. For me it is like going each year to meet up with old friends since I’ve gotten to know the staff on a personal basis.”