The folks at TOEA have known about this unifying power of outdoor curriculum for decades. The organization exists to promote bringing the outdoors into the classroom and fostering mutual improvement and connection between educators who do so. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of its founding.
TOEA’s history is inextricably linked with the H. E. Butt Foundation. Echo Valley was the site of its inaugural annual conference in 1979. At the time, the conference was a natural fit for the Foundation. As John Worden, a former administrator for the Foundation, puts it, “In some sense, outdoor education was the initial and central vision for the H. E. Butt Foundation camp property. The 1954 acquisition of the property fulfilled a vision Howard Butt, Sr., had to provide an experience in nature for children.”
In harmony with that vision, the conference has reconvened in the Canyon nearly every September since the initial 1979 meeting. Erik Silvius, who is both senior director of Outdoor School and TOEA’s current executive secretary, says that even after four decades of conferences in the same location, “the annual workshop has the very hard-to-define ‘Canyon experience’ effect on its members.”
But there is a reciprocity to the relationship, too. Over the decades of gathering, TOEA has enhanced the Foundation’s own development of outdoor programs. “TOEA’s decades-long presence in the Canyon has provided for really impactful relationships with outdoor education professionals from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to universities around the country,” says Silvius.