By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
Way up Big Hill, nestled in pines, is a school that has served 300,000 students from all over California since 1969.
As Director Michael Olenchalk puts it, "that's a good amount of people to teach about science and the environment."
The Regional Learning Center, operated by Clovis Unified School District, welcomes kids for short stays to the Stanislaus National Forest year round, teaching them about ecosystems, animals and endurance.
Although most of the buildings, rope courses and dormitories are contained on Clovis' 27 acres, hiking trails, a chlorination unit, water tanks and other facilities are further afield. Clovis, in Fresno County, would like to maintain them, but because school funding stipulates that the district must own the land, some things are going to seed with no money to fix them.
"We have some buildings here that need some real repairs," Olenchalk said.
Clovis is asking for 120 additional acres of land that it would maintain. If the district decided it no longer wanted to run the regional learning center, the land would revert back to the Forest Service.
However, some fear the land transfer from national forest to a private interest would set an unhealthy precedent, especially because the land is being transferred to a school district two hours away.
"It does open up the door for more land transfers," Tuolumne County Supervisor Mark Thornton said at a recent board meeting.
Other supervisors, like Dick Pland, think there couldn't be a better use for the land.
Despite the support, the board wrote to Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, to list the land's hazards, including fire danger.
But Olenchalk said he feels confident the center will survive both fires and politics.
Clovis kids only make up 17 percent of the learning center's guests, Olenchalk said. Many Tuolumne and Calaveras county students take day trips to the center, and kids from school districts both in the foothills and elsewhere spend up to five days camping and taking outdoor education classes there.