Gearing up for summer classes, lectures

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SHERIDAN — Sheridan College has announced the 2013 summer schedule for community outdoor learning classes at Spear-O-Wigwam Mountain Campus.

The facility has served as a mountain camp and retreat for thousands of people, most notably, Ernest Hemingway, who in 1928, spent several weeks in seclusion at the camp, writing the first draft of “A Farewell to Arms.” The camp was operated as a private camp for paying guests for almost 90 years, but was sold to the Northern Wyoming Community College District in the spring of 2011.

Since then, it has hosted numerous outdoor learning classes for college students and community members.

“We looked at it as a great opportunity to build an outdoor curriculum and environment at the college and turn it into a mountain campus so we could get not only our students, but also community members up in the mountains and have use of the facility,” said Trudy Munsick, Dean of Outdoor Education.

The site has operated as an outdoor classroom for dozens of college and public classes for two summers. It has recently received several improvements including updating of cabins.

“We are slowly upgrading everything, all the cabins and facilities with the help of volunteers, the Friends of Spear-O,” Munsick said. “We’ll have volunteers come up and help stain cabins, chink cabins, clear trails, just about anything we need done.

“Our largest cabin sleeps 12, that we just renovated inside and out,” she continued, noting there are other cabins that sleep one, two and six people. “We have a kitchen facility that we are slowly remodeling. We have a main lodge with a living area and a couple bathrooms and a dining room. Then we have a separate log facility that is a meeting room/classroom.”

More than a dozen classes are planned for this summer to take advantage of the newly refurbished facilities. Learn Outdoors coordinator Julie Davidson said the classes have been chosen to provide a wide range of learning opportunities and to cover many diverse topics.

“The very first summer, two summers ago, it happened so quickly that it was based really just on people I knew in the community that I could call on,” Davidson said about how class offerings were chosen. “This summer and last we’ve taken a different approach. In October, we put out a call to all the employees district-wide for proposals, so if anyone is interested in teaching something they submit a proposal. That is where we start and then see where we might expand. I get a lot of calls from community people wanting to teach classes. We do have to be a little discriminating, so what we’ve looked at is trying to give a good variety of opportunity every summer and not duplicate. This summer I am really pleased with the course offering because it continues to improve in variety and availability.”

To that end, Davidson encouraged anyone interested in taking a class this summer to sign up, since the class will likely not be offered the following summer, as the campus attempts to continually offer new programs.

In addition to offering a variety of classes, Davidson said she tries to offer differing lengths of classes as well, to accommodate people’s schedules. Though many of the classes involve a one- or two-night stay, which many people consider part of the fun of a visit to Spear-O, she said there are five classes offered this year that are just one-day events to allow people with busy schedules to participate without committing to overnight stays.

Besides outdoor learning experiences, Davidson said that the campus has served other purposes as well.

“The other thing that is really neat is that it hasn’t just been for college education, but to help college students in other ways,” she said. “The Gillette College show choir, Energy City Voices and others use it as a retreat. It is something you might not think of as outdoor or science education but they are using the campus in their music program, which is kind of cool.”

Davidson and Munsick said the campus is also opening up to a larger audience through partnerships with the National Outdoor Leadership School and the Teton Science School.

In September, the Teton Science School will teach a course at Spear-O for fifth-graders from Tongue River Elementary. In coming years, the program will be offered to all area fifth-grade students.

The partnership with NOLS will begin in June with the offering of a Wilderness First Responder course.

“That is a 10-day class and it is a class they offer across the country in different locations, so it is exciting we are getting to offer it at Spear-O,” Davidson said.

Munsick and Davidson said they are excited about the continued expansion of program offerings and uses for the Spear-O facility that will allow participation from residents around northern Wyoming.

“I think the biggest benefit is that when Spear–O was a dude ranch, it was closed unless you wanted to pay to go up there,” Davidson said. “With the college owning it, it opened a big opportunity for folks who are in the Bighorns but may have felt it was off limits and exclusive.

“As far as comparing our classes to a weekend away anywhere else, they are exceptionally affordable,” she added. “We also have the free mountain lecture series. We are a community college and it is of paramount importance to connect with the community.”

To sign up for classes or find out about educational and recreational opportunities at Spear-O, contact Davidson at 674-6446 ext. 8350. For a full list of classes visit


By |May 10th, 2013|

About the Author:

Christina Schmidt has worked at The Sheridan Press since August 2012. She covers a variety of feature stories as well as stories related to local schools.