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History of Touch of Nature

History of Touch of Nature

  • 1940 - Little Grassy Lake was created in 1940 by damming Little Grassy Creek, a tributary of Crab Orchard Lake and the Big Muddy River. It was built as part of federal relief efforts surrounding recovery from the Great Depression.
  • 1948 - Dr. Delyte Morris became president of SIU. During his presidency, Morris had a sincere and dedicated interest in an extensive outdoor education and recreation curriculum. 

  • 1949 - Dr. William "Bill" Freeberg returned to SIU to establish a specialization after becoming the first in the country to complete a Doctorate of Recreation at Indiana University. Both Morris and Freeberg would soon work together to create what is now Touch of Nature Outdoor Education Center.

  • 1949 - At a national conference, a need for outdoor education as part of the national educational curriculum was recognized. The Board of Trustees granted President Morris and Dr. Freeberg the authority to negotiate leases on land in the Little Grassy Lake area from the Department of Interior.

  • 1950 - The Board of Trustees authorized options along the western shores of Little Grassy Lake, and the University acquired 150 acres of land from the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • 1954 - A Master Plan for the development of the Little Grassy Lake site was approved by the SIU Board of Trustees, and was accepted by the Fish and Wildlife Service in February. The development of the University's outdoor education program was sponsored jointly by the University and by the Educational Council of 100. 

  • 1954 - Department of Recreation and Outdoor Education was established. Part of the new Department's responsibility included the supervision and development of a camping program at the Little Grassy Lake Campus. William Freeberg was appointed Chairman of the Department.

  • 1959 - Lloyd Burgess (L.B.) Sharp, pioneer in outdoor education, accepted a faculty position at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He relocated the Outdoor Education Association to campus and influenced the establishment of the outdoor experiential education facility Touch of Nature. National Camp closed in 1962. Sharp died in 1963.

  • 1963 - The Little Grassy Lake Campus was made a separate unit, no longer administered by the Department of Recreation and Outdoor Education, and the name was changed to Little Grassy Facilities. William F. Price was appointed Coordinator.

  • 1968 - Little Grassy Facilities became the central campus for the larger surrounding Outdoor Laboratory.

  • 1969 - Hank Schafermeyer, a forestry graduate student at SIU, with the help of Tony Calabrese, started the Underway Adventures program.  Schafermeyer based the program off of the Outward Bound program, a week-long program giving coed youths and adults a taste of rock climbing, high ropes courses, team building and other outdoor activities.

  • 1972 - The National Park Service named Touch of Nature a National Environmental Education Landmark.  This distinguished honor was only given to 11 sites around the United States with Touch of Nature as the first of its kind in the nation.

  • 1973 - SIU's Outdoor Laboratory changed its name to Touch of Nature Environmental Center.

  • 1974 - Year round programming began to be offered.

  • 1978 - Soon after retiring, William Freeberg started the Friends of Touch of Nature, a group dedicated to raising funds and awareness about Camp Little Giant. 

  • 1980 - With the cooperation and contracts with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Department of Corrections, a Youth Advocacy Program was initiated. The program later took the name Spectrum Wilderness Therapy.

  • 1980 - Camp Little Giant was awarded the Eleanor P. Eells Award by the American Camping Association.

  • 1991 - In honor of his hard work and dedication, the Camp II dining hall at Touch of Nature was named Freeberg Hall. In keeping with Dr. Freeberg's lifelong pursuit, a living memorial in the form of an endowed scholarship fund has been established.

  • 1995 - The Wilderness Education Association held their national conference at Touch of Nature. The keynote speaker was the legendary outdoor educator Paul Petzoldt.

  • 1999 - Camp Little Giant starts Dyna Camp, a camp for children with attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

  • 2006 - The Environmental Education Program starts Eco Camp. A weekly theme-based environmental day camp for children.

  • 2009 - The Underway Adventures Program starts Wild Outdoor Week (WOW) Camp. An adventure-based day camp for children entering grades 5-8.  

  • 2013 - SIU's Department of Health Education and Recreation started offering classes at Touch of Nature. The classes include Land Navigation, Backpacking, Canoeing, Leave No Trace Trainer, Rock Climbing, Therapeutic Recreation and Wilderness Medicine.

  • 2014 - SIU alumni JD Tanner becomes Director of Touch of Nature Environmental Center. 

  • 2014 - The Therapeutic Recreation Program started a fall respite camp for adults with developmental disabilities. The camp is a partnership with the Recreation Department, as well as being an experiential class for students studying Therapeutic Recreation.

  • 2015 - Touch of Nature hosted Dawg Days, an extended orientation for incoming SIU freshmen.  

  • 2017 - Touch of Nature hosted Camp BETA, a residential camp for children with diabetes.  

  • 2018 - Touch of Nature celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Special Olympics with Change the Game Day.  Sledgefoot Lounge was renamed Burke Lounge after Justice Ann Burke who was instrumental in developing the first Special Olympics in Chicago in July, 1968.  

  • 2018 - The intern house, known as the "Red House," was named the Cavaletto House, in honor of Illinois State Representative John Cavaletto for his work with Camp Little Giant and Dr. Freeberg in the 50's and early 60's.  That same day, the Camp 1 Dining Hall was named Schafermayer Hall in honor of Underway Adventures cofounder Hank Schafermayer who passed away in December, 2017.  

  • 2021 - The grand opening of the first 10 miles of Touch of Nature's multi-use trail system took place on May 1. This is the first phase of 30 miles of proposed trails for mountain bikers, hikers, runners and walkers. 
  • 2022 - Touch of Nature Environmental Center is renamed Touch of Nature Outdoor Education Center.