By Tamas Mondovics

For nearly five decades, Nature’s Classroom, Florida’s outdoor education program has been providing young students a chance to get up-close-and-personal with nature to help them reach an appreciation of the environment, while promoting conservation and preservation.
Nature’s Classroom is located Northeast Hillsborough County on 365 acres provided by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and within the boundary of the Hillsborough River.

Throughout the year, the school focuses on the Hillsborough River Watershed Field Study catered to sixth grade students who attend a three-day program that covers the habitats, flora, fauna, human use and impact field study of the Hillsborough River Watershed.

School officials said that nearly 15,000 sixth grade students who visit the outdoor facility claim approximately 540,000 hours of ecological and outdoor skills experiences annually.

Since 2007, Nature’s Classroom officials have also opened the school’s doors to the public to raise awareness and funding, which supports the feeding of its collection of animals on site.

The upcoming open house event called, “Woods, Water, and Wildlife” is a considered once-a-year celebration that is now scheduled for Saturday, March 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“This event will allow the general public to visit the school that is normally reserved for the environmental education of all sixth grade public school students in Hillsborough County,” said event coordinator Chris Rusnak.

Visitors to the school are steadily growing, and have enjoyed the support of local government officials and community leaders.

“It is our goal to foster a better understanding of the natural world so that we can have a highly educated voter base to make smart decisions for the future of our state, country, and world,” Rusnak said.

The one day cash only event is $10 per carload. Boat rides are $2 per person and will include children’s activities, animal experiences, hikes, a shoreline sampling experience, and exhibitors.

Nature’s Classroom is located at 13100 Verges Rd in Thonotosassa, just 1.5 miles east of I-75 of the Fletcher Ave. Exit. Volunteers are welcome and may contact Mary Spence at 987-6969 or mary.spence@sdhc.k12.fl.us.