Grant Union Junior-Senior High School students Maggie and Ellie Justice of John Day experienced a four-day “getaway” at the June 21-24 High Desert Youth Range Camp.
The two sisters joined 11 other students from Oregon, Idaho and Washington at the camp to study rangeland issues at the 16,000-acre Northern Grant Basin Experimental Range near Burns.
Maggie, who will be a senior this fall, was chosen as top camper and will receive an all-expenses paid trip to Sparks, Nevada, to represent Oregon at the High School Youth Forum held during the annual Society for Range Management meeting.
Maggie owns 13 head of cattle, has shown livestock at the Grant County Fair and made a presentation about crested wheat grass at the Oregon Stockgrowers Association last September.
She said her favorite part of the range camp was learning the importance of sage brush and perennial grasses.
“We identified the grasses, and before this camp, I thought it was a bunch of weeds that got stuck in my shoes,” she said. “I think it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. You’ve got to know what’s around you and understand the importance of it — just a base knowledge of what’s going on out your back door.”
Camp coordinator Gabrielle Johnson said they had an excellent and engaged group of campers.
“The students were eager to hear the material presented, were full of thoughtful questions and showed great willingness to learn all they could,” she said.
The camp offered more than learning about soils, sagebrush and invasive weeds. It included a hike to a butte, dutch-oven cooking provided by Harney County Cattlewomen members and a karaoke night.
Ellie, who will soon be a sophomore, said she enjoyed the educational experience, as well as the more entertaining parts of the camp, including geocaching for varieties of grasses, such as buckwheat and needle grass.
“You can’t really go there and not learn,” she said.
She said she appreciated the opportunity to broaden her horizons at the camp.
“Our environment has so many animals that you can’t always see,” she said. “It’s cool seeing how complex it is.”
The range camp is a cooperative effort between Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center, Agriculture Research Service and Harney County Watershed Council with several sponsors and instructors supporting the effort.
Each camper paid $50 to attend, and sponsors defrayed the cost with a $125 scholarship for each high school age youth.
The participants also earned two credits through Treasure Valley Community College.
“It’s something that I’d recommend for everybody,” Maggie said. “You get college credits and free food. What more can you ask for?”