Last May marked the opening of the newly restored Camp Brookside Environmental Education Center. This 32-acre island within the New River Gorge National River once provided a summer retreat for the children of Union Carbide’s Alloy plant. From 1946-1993, company employees sent their children to Camp Brookside, where they spent their summers learning how to swim, doing arts and crafts and studying nature. In 1993, the National Park Service purchased the site for use as a river ranger station. After several years, the park began to explore the feasibility of turning Camp Brookside into an overnight camp once again. With strong involvement from former campers and local universities, the idea to build an environmental education center was born.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Camp Brookside underwent major restorations over the past few years to bring its cabins, mess hall and kitchen up to modern, commercial-grade standards. With all work performed by local labor, the camp slowly began to transition into an environmental education center. The center now offers all of the modern-day amenities, like Wi-Fi and warm showers, while still maintaining a traditional summer camp feel with rustic cabins and a row of wooden rockers lining the mess hall’s front porch. Remnants of its previous life are plentiful, with black and white camp photos on the walls and former campers’ names carved into the original cabin doors.
Several student groups visited the environmental education center in 2016, with overnight camps for Summers County fourth graders, a Raleigh County Girl Scout troop and one Fayette County school. Campers learned about science and nature while exploring the center’s hiking trails and learning to use field study tools. Each camp included a service-learning component with students working together to plant several new trees.
Additional activities at the center included various free public programs focused on experiential learning, in which volunteers taught local community members different ways to get active in national parks. These programs taught stand-up paddle boarding, yoga, tai chi, archery, fly fishing and cooking. The center is now gearing up for another busy year, with several groups booked for spring 2017. Options for stays include school programs, day programs and a leasing program in which families, area businesses or individuals can rent the entire facility.
Angela Allison is an interpretive park ranger with New River Gorge National River. Originally from New Jersey, Allison moved to West Virginia in 2014 to serve as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America. Assigned to develop Camp Brookside into a premier education center, Allison fell in love with the place and its surrounding community. After a year of service, she stayed on with the National Park Service, where she continues to develop programming for the local community and area youth at the Camp Brookside Environmental Education Center.