Grace Nolt, Open Door
Spruce Lake Outdoor School, an educational ministry of Spruce Lake Retreat, is celebrating its 20th year this fall, 2007. Since 1987, over 60,000 students have experienced Christ-centered, hands-on outdoor learning at Spruce Lake. The ministry has indeed become a counter-cultural enterprise, if one agrees with what Richard Louv observed in his recent book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder; “Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors…”
Richard Louv had not yet written his book when Paul Beiler, Spruce Lake’s founding director, dreamed of starting an outdoor school on the camp’s Pocono Mountain property. But they would have agreed earnestly on this: “the extent that we separate our children from creation is the extent to which we separate them from the creator – from God.”
With little time to develop the dream himself, Paul appointed Sterling Edwards to direct the new program in 1987. Under Sterling’s passionate leadership those first 18 years, the ministry grew from 12 to over 100 schools participating each year. Students in grades 4-12 have arrived from 11 different states, some from as far away as Ohio, West Virginia, and Massachusetts.
“God just brought the right people at the right time to build this ministry,” Sterling has said. Now, as then, Spruce Lake Outdoor School is all about integrating natural and spiritual truth – “learning ABOUT God’s creation IN God’s creation.” Students are exposed to the “sensory magic” of being outdoors. Teachers try to cultivate the sense of wonder that is such a critical element for wide-eyed spiritual and practical awareness.
Ecologist and naturalist Doug Musselman has taught at Spruce Lake Outdoor School 12 years. He’s on a team of eight instructors and just as many support staff who pitch in to help. Many children he teaches are in junior high, the same age Doug was when the seed of concern for the environment started growing in his own mind.
Doug went on to earn a B.S. in General Biology from Grace College and spent two years at AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies, where he earned his Naturalist Certificate and worked as an Environmental Education Intern.
“God led me to teaching in the big classroom of his creation!” Doug said, having discovered that the typical classroom setting was not for him. “I enjoy opening people’s eyes to the wonders of our Father’s world,” Doug said, “and helping people understand our role in taking care of it.”
His years of teaching at Spruce Lake Outdoor School have convinced Doug all the more that taking care of God’s world and its resources is actually part of our Christian witness, “We are the ones to be taking care of his property, as his children.”
Just last week Doug led a new group of students on a Spruce Mountain Hike. Afterward, Doug asked the class, “How can we respond to this?”
“Wow,” burst one child! That is just what Doug had been hoping to hear. The memory of it stayed with Doug for days, sustaining lively hope that this child, and surely others the school has taught, will not be the last ones in the woods.