Wheeler County: A new water tank and pump make life easier at this rustic desert camp.

There aren’t many places in Oregon where kids can hunt for spiders, lizards and ancient fossils by day, and then sit by a glowing campfire at night and view the stars under a wide-open desert sky.

Not your typical outdoor school—but then again, the Hancock Field Station is no ordinary camp. Situated in the middle of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Clarno Unit, the popular 10-acre site, which is owned and operated by OMSI, hosts a full schedule of Outdoor School in the spring and fall and overnight camps during the summer.

Rustic but well equipped, the Hancock Field Station has no water onsite. With support from the Gray Family Foundation in 2016, OMSI replaced the 50-year-old water system, which draws from adjacent National Park Lands. The 1970s water tank, which weighed 35,000 pounds, was hauled away and replaced with a new cement tank and pump house. The result is a much more reliable system that requires less maintenance and eliminates manual monitoring of water levels.

The new system is already freeing up time for staff to focus more on the camp’s outstanding science programs located in the heart of one of the world’s most significant fossil sites.

“It’s a very exciting project,” O’Hara says. “It will be easier on everybody who maintains and monitors the drinking water.”