Bradford Woods is a lot of things to a lot of people, especially in Morgan County. Fifth-graders have come to the location off Ind. 67 since 1958, while students from the Monroe County Community School Corp. started coming a year prior — a fact the Indiana University-owned outdoor center acknowledged Saturday with an open house and celebration dinner in honor of its environmental education programming’s 60th anniversary.
“In the 1950s, I think the idea was that in an increasingly modernizing and urbanizing post-war America, to retain some of these values of kids being connected with the environment and nature,” said acting director Tim Streets. “Today, we’re just celebrating 60 years of continuous partnership with both of those awesome school organizations.”
Both school districts received awards recognizing the longstanding relationships at a dinner Saturday night.
The center works with around 65 schools throughout Indiana and Kentucky, and roughly 5,000 fifth-graders visit Bradford Woods every school year. The property is also home to many other programs, including summer camps for children with disabilities.
The open house allowed people to walk the woods of the area normally restricted to use by private groups. It was a chance for people to see Bradford Woods for the first time or, in some cases, the first in a long time.
Martinsville resident Phil Perkins came to Bradford Woods as a fifth-grader in 1978, but he had visited before as a Boy Scout. His father had come, too, as a Boy Scout, to plant trees. Later, Perkins worked at the archery station, where he met his wife. Their two daughters, Samantha and Stephanie, went to Bradford Woods as fifth-graders at Brooklyn Elementary School.
“I guess you could say I have a bit of an attachment,” Perkins said, bringing out a card he had kept since his fifth-grade trip, stating that on April 26, 1978, he found a “hunk” of gold at the Miner’s Outpost thanks to “hard work, sheer determination… and pure luck.”
He said it had been around 30 years since he had been back to visit and, save for a few new buildings, it felt pretty much the same.
Among people who saw Bradford Woods for the first time Saturday were Bloomington resident John Padawan, his mother Joan and niece Jaden, a fifth-grader at Bloomington’s Highland Park Elementary School who will travel to Bradford Woods with her class in November.
Joan said they heard about the open house through Jaden’s school when Amran Ahmad, environmental education assistant director in the spring season — who was on hand Saturday — came to talk to her class in preparation for their upcoming visit.
“We wanted to take advantage of it,” she said, holding a God’s eye craft as Jaden wrapped yarn around the center at the craft station.
Jaden said she would use her experience to help be a leader when her class comes to visit in November.
“It’s really cool, a great thing for a girl her age,” John said.
Kim Gillespie from Bedford had also never set foot in Bradford Woods before Saturday, and she was surprised by what she found.
“As many times as I’ve driven back and forth to Indy, I never knew this was here,” she said.
Though her daughter Chesney likely will not come back as a fifth-grader, Gillespie said she was glad they had come at the suggestion of her husband, who works for IU.
“We’ve been everywhere today. We went hiking, Chesney caught five fish,” she said. “This was a very nice surprise.”
Signs talking about Bradford Woods’ history were also available. People could visit the dining hall, a cabin and the interpretive center.
Streets, the acting director, who has been with Bradford Woods for seven years, and Melanie Wills, director of outdoor education and professional services, who has been there 10, said in recent memory, there hadn’t been a celebration for the environmental education center’s longevity. Saturday’s event was a year in the making, they said.
“We love to always be able to share that there are ways to come back to Bradford Woods,” Wills said.
The celebration dinner included a Buffalo Tro ceremony, a Bradford Woods tradition dating back around 30 years that was inspired by a Native American way of cooking directly on the coals — traditionally buffalo chips because of lack of firewood. The center prepared its tro pit all day in anticipation, though instead of the customary buffalo, beef was served.
Scott Russell Sanders, a Bloomington author and IU Distinguished Professor Emeritus, was the keynote speaker. He touched on the importance of keeping children educated about and connected to the environment.
Registration for 2018 programs, such as the annual maple syrup camp, is available at bradwoods.org.