History of SCICONSCICON is a story of people who cared. They cared about children and wanted them to have the best possible experiences and education as they grew up. They cared about the land and nature. They wanted the beauty of nature to be there for tomorrow and forever. They wanted future generations to grow up caring about the land, nature and each other. SCICON is a story about the people of Tulare County - not only how they cared, but how they continue to care. Everyday the people of Tulare County and the surrounding areas continue to give of their time, abilities or materials to make SCICON a reality. SCICON is people working together! Read on to find out how SCICON came to be.
In 1950, a man named Charles Rich came to Tulare County. Charles was a science teacher. He worked for Tulare County Office of Education and traveled around the valley helping other science teachers to become the best teachers they could possibly be. Charles believed that students needed to realize the importance of the environment - how we, like all things in nature, are dependent upon our environment. Charles also believed that students learn best when they are actually doing or experiencing something. He had seen students learn about the environment at outdoor science schools in other parts of the country. What better way for students to learn about the environment than to actually see and live it for themselves! Charles knew that the students of Tulare County needed an outdoor school of their own.
After discussing the idea with many educators, a pilot program was set up at a YMCA camp located at Sequoia Lake. The students from six schools would actually come up for a week to hike, study and explore nature. Then they would realize the importance of taking care of the environment and conserving natural resources. The name SCICON was given to the program - a combination of the words science and conservation.
The trial program was operated for three years. It was a big success! Students, teachers, parents and educators all agreed that this was the best way to learn about the environment - to study it first hand! But even so, the special monies used to operate the trial program were running out. SCICON would not be able to continue unless something was done.
As SCICON was experiencing its second year of success, Charles Rich was more convinced than ever that Tulare County must have its own outdoor school. What was needed was a place in Tulare County where students could come to study nature at its best. Charles searched the countryside looking for just the perfect spot. Finally he found it. In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains above Springville, California was a parcel of land known as the "Lost Forty." At an elevation of 2000 feet, it was below the winter snow line but higher than the valley fog. Bear Creek flowed year-round through the middle of the area. The land abounded with plants and wildlife. Charles Rich discovered that the owner was a lady named Clemmie Gill. The "Lost Forty" turned out to be part of the Gill Cattle Ranch. Charles approached Clemmie Gill about donating the "Lost Forty" for the SCICON program. At first Clemmie was not convinced the project would be successful. But Charles Rich did not give up. After several visits, Clemmie donated the "Lost Forty" (which turned out to be 35 acres) to Tulare County Office of Education for use as an outdoor school site. SCICON was born!
That year, school groups began to come to SCICON. But with only a dirt road into the campus, and no cabins or other facilities, the classes could only stay for the day. The day was spent studying the wildlife, plants, soil, or just appreciating nature's beauty. Often the students would participate in work projects such as building trails, planting trees or controlling erosion. A lunch of hot soup was cooked in a large tent that served as the kitchen and center of operations.
Charles Rich knew that the work had only just begun. With a donation of wood from a lumber company, and labor from a carpenter's union, the John Muir Lodge was built near Bear Creek in the center of the 35 acres. School districts, recognizing the value of the program, built cabins for the students to stay in. Thousands of students have since stayed in these cabins named after those districts (Tulare Cabin, Visalia Cabin, Lindsay Cabin, Dinuba Cabin, Orosi Cabin, Pixley Cabin, Earlimart Cabin, Shafter Cabin, Exeter House, Porterville Learning Center.) There was no electricity on the campus at that time. Cabins were heated by fireplaces. Cabin counselors were often parents or teachers. There were no telephones, no hot showers, and no flush toilets - only outhouses! Life was rustic, but everyone loved it. SCICON began to flourish and grow.
An interesting figure to the students in the early days of SCICON was a lone man who would often visit the campus. His name was Irvy Elster and he was known as the "Hermit of SCICON." He lived alone in a cabin high above the SCICON campus. At first he was very shy, preferring to keep to himself. But through the friendliness of Charles Rich and the SCICON students, he became a frequent visitor, often swapping an interesting story for dinner at the lodge. Irvy was quite a character. He had a wooden leg which he carved himself. (How he lost his real leg is still a mystery.) He would fly his red long johns from a wooden flagpole which was barely visible from SCICON. He was a quartz miner and had several quartz mines. Today students still visit these mines and search for quartz crystals. In 1965 Irvy Elster died. He is buried in the Springville cemetery. A favorite hike today at SCICON is the Sky Trail. On this hike, students climb a two and a half mile trail to get a view of the San Joaquin Valley and to visit the Hermit's Cabin, flagpole and quartz mine. Often a SCICON staff member will tell "The Hermit's Story." Mixed in with some of the facts of his life are many tall tales. It's up to you to decide what is fact - and what is fiction!
At first, the 35 acres seemed like a lot of land. But as the SCICON program and facilities grew, the SCICON campus needed to grow as well. Through donations, a trade was made with the United States Forest Service for an additional 30 acres. Then in 1969, the adjoining private land next to SCICON was planned to be developed and sold so that homes and small ranches could be built. The possibility of these new buildings could threaten serenity of the SCICON campus. Once again, the people of Tulare County showed they cared. Enough money was raised to buy the surrounding 1000 acres! Now the pristine beauty of SCICON was guaranteed. Through this effort, an organization called the "Friends of SCICON" was formed. To this day, donations of time, money and materials are given to benefit the SCICON program.
Since those early days of SCICON, the spirit of giving has continued in Tulare County. Among the many improvements (all through donations) are showers and restrooms for the boys' and girls' villages, the Phyllis Wall Museum, the Max Cochran Planetarium, the Lyle Christman Observatory, the Handicabin, the Charles Rich Intern Staff House, the Briz Brizby Raptor Center and the Barton Memorial Amphitheatre. Many miles of roads and trails have been built, all by volunteers.
In 1991, Elli Norris, a grand niece of Clemmie Gill, donated another 600-acre ranch to SCICON. Today this is known as the Circle J - Norris Ranch. Located just six miles from the SCICON campus, this ranch has a five-acre pond, a year-round stream and an abundance of plants and wildlife. Students of all ages visit the Circle J - Norris Ranch to do research about ecology and the environment.
By 2003, it became obvious that with the growing student population in Tulare County, there was going to come a time very quickly when SCICON would not be able to schedule in all of the sixth grade classes to attend SCICON. Possibilities were discussed and an idea was born to build a new village right on the SCICON campus. A suitable location was found near the museum. A generous donation from Barbara and Melville Price (educators in Porterville) plus significant support from the Tulare County Board of Education made it possible for a new village to be constructed during the summer and fall of 2006. On March 13, 2007, the first students started attending the new Eagle Point Village.
So when at SCICON, please remember all those who have made it possible for you to be here. Every trail you walk on, every bridge you cross, every building you enter was made possible by someone who cared. Treat all these with respect. Even more, in your own way, give something back to SCICON. Show that you care. Remember that SCICON is people working together!
View the SCICON Timeline.
Tulare County Office of Education
P.O. Box 339, Springville, CA 93265
Dianne Shew, Administrator
(559) 539-2642 • fax: (559) 539-2643
Jim Vidak, County Superintendent of Schools
Tulare County Office of Education
All mail to: P.O. Box 5091, Visalia, CA 93278-5091
Physical address: 6200 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA 93277
phone: (559) 733-6300 • fax: (559) 737-4378
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