A great outdoor classroom

Published 10:36 pm Friday, May 18, 2012

It’s refreshing to know that no matter how badly Suffolk might need new schools, no matter how the student/teacher ratio might rise with the trimming of educational budgets, there will always be one classroom in the city with plenty of room for everyone.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has become an increasingly popular place for students to conduct scientific and archeological research and a resource of growing importance to those pursuing higher education.

Students from Christopher Newport University, for example, have been spending quite a bit of time in the swamp recently to examine what last year’s 6,574-acre, 111-day Lateral West fire did to study plots after it scrubbed the third year of a three-year investigation into Atlantic white cedar. As it turns out, the fire might have uncovered evidence of some of the earliest trees to have grown in the swamp, and researchers are eager to see what they can learn from the remains of those trees.

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Other students from Old Dominion University, North Carolina State University and American University also are known to venture into the swamp, but CNU is believed to be the most active institution there, according to refuge officials.

Visiting the swamp is a great way for the students to experience a true wilderness without having to venture all that far from home. The same can be said for folks right here in Suffolk. Clearly, the refuge has been recognized for its value as a college classroom.

But with much of the 100,000 acres of that wilderness accessible to just about anyone with a car, a map, a handheld GPS and a bit of common sense, the benefits of that vast outdoor classroom are available to just about everybody.

In this case, folks in Suffolk — whether as part of an organized educational program or on their own — could take a lesson from the college kids. There’s much to learn in the Great Dismal Swamp. Grab some bug spray, put on a pair of long pants and boots and take a hike in the wilderness. You might be surprised at how interesting your class can be.