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New Jersey School of Conservation Celebrates Historic 75th Anniversary

Old sepia photo of a group of young men and women looking over the side of a bridge

For Immediate Release


Press Contact: Anthony Campisi

Cell: 732-266-8221


New Jersey School of Conservation Celebrates Historic 75th Anniversary

Educators, summer camp alum, former students, and environmental leaders from across New Jersey come together at the Stokes State Forest to recognize school’s accomplishments and future


Stokes State Forest, Sussex County – The New Jersey School of Conservation celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this month, with a three-day series of programs celebrating the school’s community and stakeholders over the course of its history. As part of the celebration, the school recognized a number of leaders in climate change education and held a panel discussion about the evolving nature of the conservation field. All these events were interspersed with outdoor experiences including campfires, s’mores and archery, among other activities.


“We were fortunate to celebrate 75 glorious and significant years - from our humble beginnings as an outdoor education field center to a global influencer in the field of environmental education to a survivor of a near closure several times, to an institution that is revitalized and refocused on our mission of providing ‘Environmental  Education to Everyone, Everywhere,’” said Kerry Kirk Pflugh, Executive Director of the School of Conservation. 


Friends of the New Jersey School of Conservation Board President Jennifer Coffey took the opportunity to highlight for attendees the School’s recent strides forward, including:

  • Hiring lifelong conservationist, civil servant, and environmental advocate Kerry Kirk Pflugh as Executive Director;

  • Upgrading facilities by fixing roofs, rebuilding chimneys, painting walls, refurbishing adult living spaces for visiting scholars, replacing fencing around the corral that are used for stargazing, orienteering, and recreational activities, and overhauling “Big Timbers,” the school’s largest eating hall;

  • Enhancing accessibility by upgrading lighting, Wi-Fi, technology and upgraded spaces for wheelchair users and those with mobility challenges.


The School honored Jackie Russell Patterson with its NJSOC Pioneer Award. The NJSOC Pioneer Award is given to the person who has significantly contributed to the development of the New Jersey School of Conservation. During her five year tenure at the NJSOC in the late 1960's to early 1970's, Jackie created a business model and teaching method that integrated environmental issues into  the four curriculum areas - humanities, social studies, natural science and outdoor recreation, creating a comprehensive environmental education curriculum that is still in practice today. Patterson’s innovative approach to teaching environmental education catapulted the School of Conservation to the forefront of environmental education nationwide and globally.


“My first introduction to the New Jersey School of Conservation was in the spring of 1962 when I was a sophomore at Paterson State College. The experience proved to be a lasting one for me,”  said Patterson who was proud to contribute to the  “development of  an education  program with emphasis on a change in philosophy from outdoor education to that of environmental education.”


NJSOC Changemaker award recipients were recognized for “advocating on behalf of students to ensure they have the opportunity to experience learning in the natural environment.” Awardees included Bob Locantore (Wenonah Public School), Devon Kallen (Somers Point Schools), Beth Hansen (Upper Freehold Regional School District), Katherine Bree (Garwood Public Schools), Rhiannon McElwee (Stevens Cooperative School, Hoboken), and Becky Coveney (Stevens Cooperative School, Hoboken).


Prominent guests included Keynote Speaker Shawn LaTourette, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, and Chief Vincent Mann, Turtle Clan Chief of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation NJ-NY. Chief Mann delivered the Luncheon Blessing.


“Everything that has lived on this earth, everything, every living thing will always return back to its soil. Everything,” Chief Mann said during the Blessing. “It tells you why our vegetables are sacred, it tells you why, you know, those trees are sacred. It tells you why you hear about water is life and how sacred that water is because it passes through everything that has ever lived on this planet. We appreciate the efforts of Kerry and others who come before her and those who will come after to continue to hold this land in their heart, to leave their spirit in it, just as our ancestors are.”


Commissioner LaTourette focused on encouraging attendees to raise their voices to advocate for proactive climate legislation.


“When our environment is under threat, when the public health risks are high, our leaders stand up and act. We operate in a responsive way, ” said LaTourette. “It is time to become more proactive. It is time for the next generation of policy that looks out into the future.”


After the weekend celebration, School leadership is looking forward to welcoming students back to enjoy resumed programming such as overnight trips from schools across the state and summer camp.


“It was very special to celebrate this milestone in the School’s history,” said Pflugh. “We are grateful for the present and look forward to a very bright future.”

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