A Classroom in the Great Outdoors

Big Pocono State Park provides a learning experience for NCC students

NCC Science Club members discuss and observe the plant species that make up the barrens community of Big Pocono.

Earlier this year, Beatriz Villar, professor of biology, and Karen Layton, instructor, held classes at Big Pocono State Park and guided an informative hike for Northampton Community College Science Club students.  

"Big Pocono is a great outdoor classroom.  Firsthand experience gives students that 'sense of place' and brings what they learn in the classroom to life," said Layton.  "There are some unique learning opportunities at Big Pocono. The students really get excited about them."

Part of that unique learning opportunity is the pitch pine - scrub oak barrens at the top of Big Pocono.  Students in Layton's science class spent time in their indoorNCC Science Club members observe the views from Big Pocono’s Indian Trail. classroom learning about the barrens environment of Big Pocono, the role fire plays in maintenance, and wildland fire management plans.  They then visited the park, and using a topographic map and a site checklist, evaluated it for the best method for maintenance of the barrens community.

"I'm thrilled when I can observe students seeing the park for the first time. Through their eyes, I'm experiencing the wonder of learning something new all over again," Layton shared.

Professor Beatriz Villar also knows the value of bringing students to Big Pocono.

"I believe that it is important for the students to connect as much as possible what they are learning in the classrooms with what it is outside them, and this becomes very clear when talking about biology, plants and animals, specifically," Villar said. "We have wonderful examples of local areas such as the Big Pocono State Park, with very interesting adaptations, geographically and ecologically, but many of us don't know enough about them because we didn't grow up around here."

Layton is a volunteer Certified Interpretive Guide at Big Pocono.

"I really enjoyed the informative hike by our tour guide Karen. It was very captivating. Getting to know how the state park came about its existence, how much it has changed from the early days to the present and learning about all of the different species of plants and animals that live at the park was very interesting" student Himil Desai, a biology major, said.

"The hike was a great experience to have a hands-on experience with science. I learned a lot about the biology of our environment in the Poconos," added student Leslie Wubbel, biology major.    

Once students from Karen Layton’s science class had completed site checklists and studied topographic maps, it was time to go inside the Cattell Cabin to review and discuss the maintenance of the barrens community.

At Big Pocono State Park, there are opportunities to study the geology of the Pocono Plateau and the escarpment as well as the role geologic forces and glaciers played in their formation.  Bird and hawk migrations are another area to study.  Map reading, nature journaling, photography -- all of these opportunities exist right at NCC's back door.

The unique human history of Big Pocono is also a draw for many visitors to the park.  They can delve into lumbering, fire tower lookouts, and the trains of the WB&E railroad which skirted the base of the mountain. The Cattell Cabin and the Big Pocono Fire Tower at the summit are historic structures and have their own unique history and charm.

If you haven't met your neighbor yet, it's about time you get acquainted.  For information about the park, you can visit the website,  contact the park office at 570-894-8336, or stop by Layton's office at the Monroe Campus (120B KAPP Hall).