Tillamook County: A weeklong camp tradition grows young naturalists—and good citizens.

The 40-year tradition of outdoor school runs deep in the Tillamook School District, where each fall about 150 sixth graders spend a week at camp. Even the district’s superintendent, Randy Schild, attended outdoor school as a boy and then returned as a high school councilor and later as an adult volunteer.

The outdoor school is held at Twin Rocks Friends Camp in Rockaway Beach. The camp sits on a freshwater lake backed by an extensive forest system, and it’s just a short walk to the beach.

“It makes for a great setting,” says Bruce Rhodes, Grant Writer and Foundation Director for the Tillamook School District. “It’s a pretty complex system in a pretty short little space.”

Here students encounter the perfect spot to study the intersection between freshwater and saltwater ecosystems. They live-trap animals, identify plants, hike and explore the beach and forest.

Beyond the strong natural resources focus, the camp promotes togetherness and respect. Everyone chooses a special camp name, shedding their classroom identity for a week as they see each other in a new light. They complete team-building activities, sing songs around the campfire, and even imagine what it would be like to be blind or in a wheelchair. The whole-person nature of camp is transformative not only for the sixth graders but also the high school councilors, many of whom attended outdoor school as sixth graders.

While the district fundraises each year for outdoor school and families contribute a fee, the Gray Family Foundation helps offset the cost by about half.

“The Gray Family has been awesome, just wonderful in providing that boost,” Rhodes says.