Outdoor Classroom and Activity Center

Keene Middle School Outdoor Classroom and Activity Center

Keene's new middle school overlooks Tenant Swamp, one of the richest wildlife areas and most significant historical sites in southwestern New Hampshire.  Our outdoor classroom and activity center will lead a continuing initiative to develop students' capacity, and their enduring commitment, to serve as stewards of the natural and cultural resources in our community.  Read More


The construction phase of the boardwalk is now complete, and we are currently seeking donations for the following:

Educational opportunities for our youth and community: 

  • We have begun to have The Harris Center host a year of OCAC educational workshops for public and private schools in the area. Thirty six workshops will be offered year round to classrooms who wish to participate. We are truly excited to offer this opportunity to all schools in the area with the goal that as youth learn more about this unique place, they will care about it, and protect it as they grow older. 
  • Providing public adult and family opportunities in the evenings, such as guided birding and nature tours are included in this option. 
Nature signage that will be added in 2016 which includes:
  • Introductory sign with map, Paleoindian sign, Plant and Animal signs, plus others. We are working with a graphic artist and Vackers sign fabricators to enhance visitors experience of the boardwalk.
Maintenance trust fund to be used to make future repairs. You can count that the boardwalk will be kept in excellent condition for years to come.
Opportunities to have you, or your organization named on the curbing of the boardwalk begin at $350.00. 

Updates & News

Recently, Time Magazine reported that the healing power of nature has numerous health benefits including: lowering blood pressure, increasing awe, promoting cancer-fighting cells, and may help with ADHD symptoms, and anxiety. We agree, nature has countless benefits that all ages and abilities can benefit from!

The Student Ambassadors of the OCAC want to share with you

the many purposes the OCAC has served our school and community on this one year anniversary of its construction, and thank you for helping to make it become a reality.

“The boardwalk is very important in its ability to allow us to observe the nature in our own Tenant Swamp without getting too close or messy. It is able to bring young people in contact with the richness and importance of nature. This may help create the new generation of environmental pioneers.” -  G. Gempler, 7th grader at KMS


“When I go outside it gives me some time to think. It gives me time to be alone and capture the essence and beauty of nature. I do think it matters because when you are outdoors it gives you this sense of spirituality and you can really get in contact with the life around you. You can discover animal and plant life and get to know the wilderness and your environment.”  -7th grader in a Nature Writing Focused Study Group

 Keene Middle School

  • Focus Study Group Classes: Topics included- Bird Watching, Nature Journaling, Nature Writing, Tree and Flower identification, Poetry, Wildlife Tracking, and Wetland Ecology

  • Advisory period and during cluster community days- Homerooms were taken down to the boardwalk with advisors to do group games and activities and experience nature together.

  • Art classes made use of the trail for drawing lessons.

  • Teachers, administrators and counselors to take out certain students when they need a break from the school.

  • Teachers also use the boardwalk as a reward for students when they’ve done well and deserve time outside.

  • Choral groups that have gone outside for their small group sectional period.  

  • In June all of cluster A (over 100 6th graders) got a tour of the trail from the OCAC Ambassadors group

  • New 7th and 8th grade students were given invitations to join the OCAC AMbassadors for a tour after school.

  • The OCAC Ambassadors club meets weekly after school out on the trail to learn how to be tour guides and environmental educators.

  • Elementary Schools

    • The Harris Center hosted 20 elementary school classes (grades 1-5)  out to the trail to learn about wetland ecology, with support from United Natural Foods, Inc.

    • What teachers said about the workshops:

    The kids were engaged and learning, and the variety of activities was a perfect introduction to the Ecosystems Unit we will be starting soon. Excellent!"

    "The variety of different activities worked well for us, it allowed students to explore the boardwalk in groups or by themselves."

      • Public Programs

      • Two Early Morning Bird Walks led by the Harris Center

      We are proud to continue the Harris hosted educational tours of the OCAC for local schools for the 2016-17 school year, with support from United Natural Foods, Inc.

      Thank you UNFI and The Harris Center!

      The Keene Outdoor Classroom had a grand opening on June 5th. Many from the community joined  our school for student-led tours, student-led wildlife exhibits, the VINS Raptor program and Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge watershed activities. Many thanks to the OCAC Student Ambassadors for their outstanding work that day.

       An online guide is currently being written by wetland scientist and professor at Franklin Pierce University, Catherine Koning. This will be available to teachers and interested community members in the fall.

      The accessible trail and boardwalk are now open to the public! The trails received a lot of use from the public over the summer months and we expect fall will bring new changes to enjoy. Please bring your family and friends for a walk on our fully accessible trail and boardwalk. Many benches line the boardwalk so you can sit and enjoy the views of cattails, tall grasses, birds, trees, mosses and wildlife.


      Spring 2015 Grand Opening - Bring your Families!

      This exciting news means we will be hosting the grand opening of the trails in Spring of 2015. Come and enjoy interpretive nature walks led by naturalists and our very own student OCAC ambassadors. Many other activities will be held on that day, so plan to come celebrate our wetlands and enjoy our new accessible trails in Keene! Stay tuned for more information...


      Thanks to our Sponsors

      We are truly grateful for our latest gifts from C & S Wholesale Grocers and the CMH Foundation who are supporting sections of the boardwalk. Many foundations, businesses, and individuals have come together to provide future opportunities for youth and conservation through this initiative. We are very excited to be taking this step together!



      We are delighted to have recently received a grant from the NH Sate Council on the Arts that has helped support an Artist-In- Residence with Sherry Gould. Sherry is a basket maker and member of the Abenaki tribe. She is currently working with our 7th graders during art classes to build their own baskets using traditional materials. The baskets will be exhibited in our school display cabinets, and Sherry will also attend our Keene Outdoor Classroom (boardwalk) opening in the spring to talk to the public about our arts residency.


      The entire 7th grade will also be offered a presentation by Voices of the Koas, an Abenaki singing group, and a lecture by archaeologist Dr. Robert Goodby, (arranged by the 7th grade teachers) in the spring of 2015. These presentations allow our students to learn about the cultural significance of our school site which dates back to the Paleo-Indians, and celebrates the historic and contemporary Abenaki culture of our region.


      Keene School District/ SAU29 is supported in part by a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts &the National Endowment for the Arts


      The City of Keene has once again shown us great support!  On Thursday, November 7, the Keene city council voted to donate $50,000 to the OCAC.  Some of the comments made at the meetings celebrated the new initiative and the fact that our project provides accessible outdoor recreation; and that many organizations are looking forward to using the trail and boardwalk when completed. We are very grateful to have the support of the City of Keene and look forward to future collaborations with city officials and agencies. 


      The Putnam Foundation has awarded the Keene Outdoor Classroom and Activity Center $30,000. The foundation's gift purchases one of two eight-by-ten-foot observation platforms along the boardwalk.  This particular deck overlooks what is known as the "communicator trees", a red maple and a yellow birch that have spontaneously grafted at their roots above the water line.  We are deeply grateful to the Putnam Foundation for this generous and important gift.


      The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation awarded a Quality of Life grant of $6,000 to the OCAC for our efforts to create an accessible recreational opportunity.  The foundation makes awards to organizations worldwide, so it is an honor to be recognized outside of the Monadnock region.  The Keene Middle School Outdoor Classroom and Activity Center will provide individuals living with paralysis, their families, and caregivers an opportunity to enjoy an accessible wetland boardwalk to increase independence, day-to-day happiness, and quality of life.


      Student binoculars:  Another grant of $500 from an anonymous donor will go toward the purchase of student binoculars that will add to the equipment that area schools can borrow and use in the outdoor classroom and boardwalk.  It is our goal to continue building equipment resources and educational kits that can be used in the wetland.  There is great potential for future partnership with area colleges in creating online curricula tailored to many subject areas.  All supplies will be housed in the Keene Middle School's library. 


      Antioch University graduate students have recently completed writing the text for nature signage that will be located along the boardwalk once it is constructed.  We are currently researching ways to complete the signage with graphics and are looking at a possible partnership with another organization.  We are fortunate to be able to collaborate creatively with the wealth of organizations in our area and we know that the future holds endless possibilities.

      Timken Grant Awarded!  The Timken Foundation of Canton has granted the Keene School District $150,000 to help us build a large section of the outdoor classroom and activity center. This will allow us to begin construction as soon as the fall of 2013. We are very grateful to Timken for its support, which demonstrates Timken's dedication and commitment to our community, youth and environment and will encourage others to join our efforts.


      On December 20th Jonathan Daniels students presented a check to the KMS OCAC, as a school fundraising effort to support a local cause. Thanks Jonathan Daniels School!


      Dorr Grant Received!The Dorr Foundation has provided funding to purchase science equipment for water quality monitoring of our wetland. The equipment will be shared with area schools and housed in the IMC. More information to follow, stay tuned....


      Eagle Scout Project:An information kiosk to be located at the  head of the trail will be built by senior Sawyer Baldwin as an Eagle Scout Project. The kiosk will house information on the trails, brochures and a registry.


      Scanning the Schools has featured an article on the KMS OCAC in its December 2012 issue, and earlier in its April 2012 issue


      Featured in the Harris Center for Environmental Education Publication: Students in Keene Middle School science classes discovered Four Toed Salamanders in our backyard. Click here to see the article:        


      Support: We have gained support from many local groups that are excited the boardwalk will be accessible to all, including those who use wheelchairs and walkers. The group includes: the City of Keene, Keene Planning Board, Keene Recreation Department, Keene Conservation Commission, Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge, Ct. River Joint Commission, Veterans, Cedar Crest (our neighbors), Monadnock Area Peer Support Group, Monadnock Conservancy, Antioch, Monadnock Developmental Services, NH Spinal Cord Injury Association, area private and public schools, Kiwanis Club, Keene Rotary Club, Elm City Rotary Club, Senator Molly Kelly and others. Please visit our letters of support link if you wish to know more.


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      Check it Out!

      Support the OCAC

      Click here to download a Pledge Form.


      Naming opportunities celebrate our local businesses, foundations and individuals who support stewardship, education, accessible recreation and quality of life for our community members in the Monadnock region. New naming documents are now complete, thanks to an in-kind donation by Lynn Stanford of Ampersand. 


      Please click here if you would like to download a copy or email us at kmsocac@sau29.org if you would like to receive a copy in the mail.


      Thank you for your heartened support of the OCAC.