Nestled in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains sits the Cooper Center for Environmental Learning, a special place that has created lasting memories for more than 130,000 children during the course of its history.
Managed through a groundbreaking partnership between the University of Arizona’s College of Education and Tucson Unified School District, the center, known as "Camp Cooper," has become a Tucson tradition – a place where children from kindergarten through eighth grade visit for overnight stays and learn about the Sonoran Desert.
In honor of that legacy and its half-century of service, the center will hold a 50th Anniversary Kick-Off and Food Truck Roundup on March 29.
"Our history is made up of the experiences that children have enjoyed at Cooper over the years," said Colin Waite, who directs the Cooper Center, which is housed in the UA College of Education. "We want to celebrate the role Cooper plays in sharing the wonders of the natural world and in molding the environmental leaders of tomorrow."
The 5-9 p.m. event is free and open to the public and will include food trucks, demonstrations, live music and stargazing with the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO) as part of the Globe at Night citizen-science campaign.
"I can still remember sitting around the campfire with my friends, sleeping in the cabins and especially exploring the desert," said Leiba Schuneman, who experienced Camp Cooper as a student at Lineweaver Elementary School.
"Spending time in nature is an important part of my life, from hiking and camping in college to sharing the desert and mountains with my two sons today," said Schuneman, who chairs the mathematics department University High School.
Environmental learning programs at the Cooper Center are ongoing during the school year. Through the partnership, TUSD maintains ownership of the center and is responsible for its facilities, while UA employees coordinate programming and manage the daily functions of the site.
The center's staff affirm that the center's value within the classroom and beyond cannot be underestimated.
"As someone who's done environmental education in Tucson for the past eight years, I've discovered there's no substitute for getting kids out into the desert," said Moses Thompson, a Manzo Elementary teacher and counselor.
"The sense of scale and assault on your senses can't be mimicked," Thompson said. "Cooper Center taps into the desert’s potential not only through its unparalleled location but through the quality programs it delivers."