EAGLE COUNTY — Learning to use a compass or how to plant and harvest lettuce for your lunch salad can be big steps in the life of a kid — or an adult, for that matter.
The idea of helping kids and adults discover themselves through discovering part of the natural world is the idea behind the new Ute Springs Experiential Learning Center. The center is the brainchild of Linda Miner and director Amy Ben-Horin. The partners plan to hold their first sessions for kids this summer, and the first marketing efforts already have each of the first year’s 12-kid sessions about half filled.
Miner said her interest in the idea of “experiential learning” has been sparked by her three boys and learning the different ways they’re learning about the world.
“Every child needs to find their own expression,” Miner said.
While Miner is somewhat new to the idea of schools and camps, Ben-Horin is a veteran of local programs including SOS Outreach, Walking Mountain Science Center and the Youth Foundation.
Ben-Horin said that experience has helped her develop ideas about teaching to one child at a time and how social and emotional growth helps kids academically, too.
At Ute Springs, the model for sparking that social and emotional growth includes daily sessions over the course of a week, including an overnight campout. Daily activities are set to include everything from time for reflection and journal-writing to hiking and a visit to a farm near Gypsum. There, kids can plant then harvest lettuce, helping them learn about where food comes from. The kids will also spend some time with horses and a goat named Peyton.
For the first summer, those activities will include trips in a van to various locations including Sylvan Lake State Park. Through it all, the kids will learn more about the Ute Indians, the people who wandered in and out of the valley long before Lord Gore came to visit in the 19th century.
Ute Springs will at first focus on camps for elementary-school kids, but will expand to middle and high school kids.
No matter the session, all kids are welcome, and the partners have promised to fill 10 percent of the available spots with someone who attends on scholarship. That means just one kid per session this summer. But the regular rates for the coming year are $250 per kid — reasonable, given the cost of daycare.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Expanding the programs to a wide range of kids, then offering programs during the school year, will take some time, but that is in the Ute Springs business plan. A firm home base is part of the Ute Springs vision, too. Miner and Ben-Horin are now raising money and working with Ann Cathcart to acquire the site of Cathcart’s former venture, The Learning Camp, located at the top of Spring Creek, south of Gypsum.
That site, which already has a lodge and other facilities, will make summer programs easier. It will also allow Ute Springs to host leadership and other seminars for adults. The plan is to invite speakers for those sessions that would help pay the way for more children’s programs.
Ben-Horin said the facilities at the Learning Camp can be converted for fall and winter “glamping” — fancy camping — for adults.
None of this planning has happened in a vacuum, of course. Miner said she and Ben-Horin have spent much of the winter talking with Eagle County School District officials, other nonprofit groups and, of course, potential donors to build support for the Ute Springs idea, and how it can be expanded to appeal to kids and adults.
“We’re very excited about what we can bring to the valley,” Miner said.