Better Than Book Learning

Project seeks to take students to the environment

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If all goes to Travis Perry's plan, the Hermosa Project would become an institution in Southern New Mexico dedicated full-time to conservation and natural-history education.

Perry is a professor of biology and the president of the board of Natural Curiosity, a nonprofit based in Hillsboro, New Mexico, aimed at teaching science in a hands-on environment.

"Hermosa is the idyllic location to educate and inspire," Perry said. To do that … "you have to bring the student to the wilderness."

He's seeking as much as $1.5 million in funding for the Hermosa Project that will allow the group to utilize the small townsite as its education and "edu" tourism field station. Hermosa is nestled in the hills with access to 760,000 acres of rugged terrain. The goal is to offer indoor and outdoor classrooms, backcountry wilderness adventures through the national forest, and to conduct serious scientific experiments and research. 

"Nothing has the same impact as experiential education," Perry said. 

To help realize the goal of $1.5 million, a fundraiser is taking place on Nov. 30 at the Bear Mountain Lodge in Silver City. (bearmountainlodge.com) Donations are tax deductible. 

"Our plan is to make Hermosa a venue for conservation, education and research for a wide variety of organizations and institutions, including local schools, colleges and universities,” he said.

In 1997, Perry founded The Wild Semester, a training program for young biologists to conduct research in the field that turns "a fear of the wild into a love of the wild, "he said.

The group's "Wilderness" semester takes college students from the host university and immerses them in nature, teaching them skills like survival, first aid, biological survey techniques, sawyer training and even horse and mule packing.

Many of his students have gone on to become researchers and educators across the globe. Right now, the Wilderness semester is only open to a select group of students; with increased funding, Perry said, the opportunity would be available to anyone who wants to learn more about ecology and conservation. The grant would allow the organization to purchase the site and convert it into a permanent center for natural science inquiry.

Participants also get physical workouts: a weeklong hike near the Continental Divide Trail through the Aldo Leopold Forest sends students and pack mules on a 27-mile loop to Reed's Peak. 

"Almost all the species are present here that were present when Coronado first explored the region," Perry said. "I want to expand the teaching opportunities I've had in this incredible place well beyond my own institutionally limited programs." 

By seeking funding and grants, as well as donations from eco-minded individuals, Perry wants to make these special programs available to everyone, especially those under-represented in biological sciences like women and minorities. 

The organization is a non-profit funded through donations and grants. To find out more about the Natural Curiosity organization, or to help support their mission, visit www.natural-curiosity.org or call 575-342-1323.