Explore the Gorge Youth Program

Program sponsored by the Vic Clausen Youth Education Fund

Explore the Gorge Youth Program
A student group views Hardy Falls on the Hamilton Mountain trail (photo: Mike Drewry)

Explore the Gorge

Every June for over a decade, sixth-graders from the Washougal, Washington school district have had the opportunity to attend a multiday outdoor school and explore the historical, geological, cultural, natural, and ecological wonders of the Columbia Gorge as the culmination of their school year. Explore the Gorge outdoor program fosters students’ relationships with these wild places through interactive educational activities, aiming to inspire the next generation of Gorge stewards.

A memorial gift established the program in 2008 from longtime supporter and member Phyllis Clausen in honor of her late husband. Phyllis has a strong background in Gorge conservation work. When schools started to lose funding for their own outdoor school programs, she saw a local need for environmental education and established the Vic Clausen Youth Education Fund. This valued program has since been offered free of charge to more than 2,200 students and operates in partnership with the Washougal School District. Grant funding support from the Camas Washougal Community Chest.

In 2018, a record number of 21 volunteer naturalists guided 270 students through interactive educational activities at Beacon Rock State Park. Continued support comes from Bonneville Dam Park Rangers, who led the students on the historical trail and at wildlife ponds on site. New to the program (in 2018) was involvement by U.S. Forest Service Rangers who offered a lesson and activity on wildland fire and forest ecology. From the Doetsch Day Use Area below Beacon Rock, students had a clear view of the charred cliffs across the river, as they learned the positive and negative effects of fire and how Gorge landscapes are already recovering.

When asked about their experience, one student answered, “We learned about our environment and how to take care of it.” Another chimed in, “I like learning better when it’s more exciting, and it’s more exciting when it’s out here like this.”

Explore the Gorge in the News

June 13, 2019 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: Washougal Students 'Explore the Gorge'
June 21, 2018 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: Explore the Gorge
June 15, 2018 | The Columbian: Washougal students talk about environment during Outdoor School 
June 15, 2017 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: Out of Their Desks and Into Nature
June 10, 2014 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: A Connection to Conservation
June 11, 2013 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: A Natural Classroom
June 21, 2011 | Camas-Washougal Post Record: Empowering Observation

“I feel so encouraged to know that our program is growing and that in other places, too, people are remembering the values of outdoor programs for kids' long term health and overall development. You are doing something of significant worth.” - Phyllis Clausen, founder of Explore the Gorge


View some photos from 2017, the program's 10th Anniversary!