Proposed Budget Resolution Would Support Restoration of the New Jersey School of Conservation
A budget resolution to fund the New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC) submitted by Senator Bob Smith (LD-17) and Assemblyman John McKeon (LD-27) is gaining momentum with at least eight other legislators signing on as co-sponsors and many more promising support.
Last year, Montclair State University abruptly closed the NJSOC, turned the facility over to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), and suspended all programming citing financial hardship due to the pandemic. Since then, the Friends of the NJSOC negotiated a limited access agreement with NJDEP, allowing them the ability to offer five education and public programs a month. The response to these programs has been overwhelmingly positive with requests from school districts, college and university professors, and researchers across the state to a return to the year-round residential field center program offerings that the NJSOC was created to provide.
“As a former Environmental Science Professor, I am proud to sponsor funding for the important environmental education work at the New Jersey School of Conservation,” said Senator Bob Smith, D-Piscataway and Chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “From threats to the Garden State’s biodiversity to the impacts of climate change, the New Jersey School of Conservation is on the front lines of educating the next generation of environmental leaders and scientists.”
“The New Jersey School of Conservation is critical to ensuring our state cultivates and encourages responsible environmental stewardship. That’s why I am fighting to secure $3 million to keep the exceptional public programs and research up and running,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D- West Orange and member of the Budget Committee and Chair of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. “I had the pleasure to visit the School recently and continue to be impressed with this educational treasure.”
“The Friends of NJSOC are so grateful to Senator Smith and Assemblyman McKeon for sponsoring this budget resolution and supporting our efforts to restore the NJSOC,” said Kerry Kirk Pflugh, president of the Friends of the NJSOC, the group advocating on behalf of the New Jersey School of Conservation. “The NJSOC has touched the lives of nearly 500,000 people across the state over the course of its 72-year history. Many of our state’s environmental leaders, educators, lawyers, engineers, and researchers got their start at the NJSOC. Passing this resolution will ensure that future generations of environmental leaders have the same opportunity.”
“We are grateful to Assemblyman McKeon and Senator Smith for sponsoring budget resolutions to provide funding for the New Jersey School of Conservation and appreciate the growing list of legislators who are supporting this important effort,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of New Jersey LCV. “The School is critical for our students to experience conservation first hand, for scientists to conduct research, and for the public to learn about environmental protection.”
“The School of Conservation is a New Jersey gem that is vital for environmental research, discovery, and renewal. It’s an arch that stretches across time from FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps to now,” said Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. It’s our responsibility to keep it going, and I’m so pleased to see that the New Jersey Legislature is working to do just that.”
We are thrilled that the Friends of the New Jersey School of Conservation are making sure the School will continue. It is extremely important for the future of our state,” said Julia Somers, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. It’s mission to educate every age and grade level about the environmental sciences, providing memorable outdoor experiences, making important original research possible for advanced students seeking to increase our knowledge about environmental questions, and partnering with educational institutions at all levels from elementary to high schools, community colleges and universities is important. Thank you to the legislators who are leading the way to fund this important institution.”
“The lessons I learned at the NJ School of Conservation both as a fifth-grade student and as a high school teacher’s aide were among the factors that influenced my decision to pursue a career in environmental law,” said Dennis Toft, chair, Environmental Group. “The hands-on experience at the School, in natural surroundings, sparked my lifelong interest in the natural world. It’s important that this institution continue and grow both to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders and to provide a way for all New Jersey students to learn to appreciate the environment.”
“My middle school overnight field trip to the NJSOC changed the course of my life. When I returned to the NJSOC 10 years later as a student teacher I had the opportunity to see the experience through my students’ eyes. What happens for kids at the NJSOC is hard to describe, it’s an awakening for those who do not spend time outdoors,” said Tanya Sulikowski, former faculty member of the NJSOC. “This impacted my classroom teaching practice and I created deep curricular connections through outdoor learning. The strong pull of the SOC brought me back to conduct my graduate research in the Flat Brook River and finally as a faculty member where I had the opportunity to share this special place with students, teachers and researchers from across New Jersey.
“The NJSOC is nothing short of magical. Seeing joy light up the eyes of children and adults alike while they discovered new wonders in the forest is a truly rewarding experience,” said Dina Jones, former AmeriCorps member of the NJSOC. “As we go forward navigating the effects of a pandemic, everyone should be able to make lifelong memories in nature like they can at the NJSOC.”
“My time as a graduate student at the New Jersey School of Conservation was life altering for me. Growing up as a city kid in Newark, life for me was met with daily anxieties and hardships. Living in a forest was new, exciting, and different. For the students that will be given the opportunity to visit and experience the NJSOC, I’m sure they’ll feel the same sense of peace that I felt,” said former Rita Isabel Matos, MSc, NJSOC graduate student. “It is imperative that the NJSOC receive this funding for the well-being of our students, especially those in urban environments, and for future generations to come.”
“The New Jersey School of Conservation has created an environmental legacy for connecting students with nature for three generations. At the exact moment where COVID hijacked public education and forced the closure of the School’s program, the pandemic has reminded us we need to provide the ongoing funding to maintain the legacy of direct environmental education for students around the state. We are strongly supportive of the leadership Senator Smith and Assembly McKeon have shown to fund the School and its effort to create nature’s classroom,” said Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey.
The New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC) was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. It was formally established as a residential outdoor education field center in 1949 by former Gov. Alfred Driscoll. In 1981, Governor Brendan T. Byrne signed legislation designating that the 240-acre NJSOC would be used in perpetuity as a school for environmental field study.