SCICON is the story of the caring people of Tulare County. They care about children and about the land and they want future generations to also grow up caring about the land and the rich natural resources of Tulare County. In 1950, a science educator named Charles Rich began working for Tulare County Office of Education, traveling throughout the valley assisting schools with their science programs. Charles believed that students needed to realize the importance of the environment. He also believed that students learn best when they are actually experiencing something first-hand and see and live it for themselves. Charles believed that the students of Tulare County needed an outdoor school of their own.
After discussing the idea with many educators, a pilot program was set up in 1958 at the YMCA camp “Tulequoia” located at Sequoia Lake. The students from six schools came up for a week to hike, study, explore nature and learn the importance of taking care of the environment and conserving natural resources. The name SCICON was given to the program. The name is a combination of the words science and conservation. The trial program was operated for three years and was a huge success. Students, teachers, parents and educators all agreed that this was the best way to learn about the environment – to study it first-hand. But even so, the special monies used to operate the trial program were running out. SCICON would not be able to continue unless something was done.
As SCICON was experiencing its second year of success, Charles Rich became more convinced than ever that Tulare County must have its own outdoor school. What was needed was a place in Tulare County where students could come to study nature at its best. Charles searched the countryside looking for just the perfect spot. Finally he found it. In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada above Springville, California was a parcel of land known as the “Lost Forty.” At an elevation of 2000 feet, it was below the winter snow line but higher than the valley fog. Bear Creek flowed year-round through the middle of the area. The land abounded with plants and wildlife. The “Lost Forty” was part of the Gill family cattle ranch and Clemmie Gill owned the parcel. Charles approached Clemmie Gill about donating the “Lost Forty” for the SCICON program. At first Clemmie was not convinced the project would be successful. But Charles Rich did not give up. After several visits, Clemmie donated the “Lost Forty” (which turned out to be 35 acres) to Tulare County Office of Education for use as an outdoor school site. SCICON was born!
Charles Rich knew that the work had only just begun. With a donation of wood from a lumber company, and labor from a carpenter’s union, the John Muir Lodge was built near Bear Creek in the center of the 35 acres. Over many years school districts, recognized the value of the program and built cabins for the students to stay in. Thousand of students have now stayed in these cabins named after those districts (Tulare Cabin, Visalia Cabin, Lindsay Cabin, Dinuba Cabin, Orosi Cabin, Pixley Cabin, Earlimart Cabin, Shafter Cabin, Delano Cabin, Ivanhoe Cabin, Woodlake Cabin, Burton Cabin, Exeter House, Porterville Learning Center.) There was no electricity on the campus at that time. Cabins were heated by fireplaces. Cabin counselors were often parents or teachers. There were no telephones, no hot showers, and no flush toilets – only outhouses! Life was rustic, but everyone loved it. SCICON began to flourish and grow.
At first the 35 acres seemed like a lot of land. But as the SCICON program and facilities grew, the SCICON campus needed to grow as well. Through donations, a trade was made with the United States Forest Service for an additional thirty acres. In 1969, the adjoining private land next to SCICON was planned to be developed and sold so that homes and small ranches could be built. It was feared that the possibility of these new homes and buildings could threaten the serenity of the SCICON campus. Once again, the people of Tulare County showed they cared. A huge fundraising effort was begun, entitled “Acres for SCICON.” Presentations were made to school PTA’s, service clubs, garden clubs and chambers of commerce. In a three-year span, enough money was raised to buy the surrounding thousand acres! Now the pristine beauty of SCICON was guaranteed. Through this effort, an organization called the “Friends of SCICON” was formed. To this day, donations of time, money and materials are given to benefit the SCICON program.
Since those early days of SCICON, the spirit of giving has continued in Tulare County. Among the many improvements (all through donations) are showers and restrooms for the boys’ and girls’ villages, the Phyllis Wall Museum, the Max Cochran Planetarium, the Lyle Christman Observatory, the Handicabin, the Charles Rich Intern Staff House, the Health Center, the Briz Brizby Raptor Center and the Barton Memorial Amphitheatre. Many miles of roads and trails have been built, all by volunteers.
Beginning in 2004, it became obvious that Tulare County’s growing student population would quickly exceed the program’s ability to schedule all of the sixth grade students. Possibilities were discussed and an idea was born to build a new village on the SCICON campus. A generous donation from Barbara and Melville Price (educators in Porterville) plus significant support from the Tulare County Board of Education made it possible for “Eagle Point Village” to be constructed near the museum during the summer and fall of 2007. On March 13, 2008 the first students started attending this new village. With the addition of Eagle Point Village, the SCICON experience is guaranteed for many future generations of students in Tulare County.
Students at SCICON are reminded of all those who have made it possible for them to be there. Every trail they walk, every bridge they cross, every building they enter was made possible by someone who cared. Students are taught to treat all these with respect and give something back. They are taught the SCICON motto, “SCICON is people working together!