By William “Skip” Deegans
Normally, summer in West Virginia means an influx of top high school students from around the country and some foreign countries who come together at the National Youth Science Camp in Pocahontas County. Sadly, the pandemic will, for the third year, limit the camp to a virtual experience.
During the planning of West Virginia’s centennial celebration in 1963, an interest developed in the state hosting the national Boy Scout Jamboree. When that idea didn’t pan out, the centennial committee suggested a science camp on West Virginia University’s campus. Two WVU professors, Charles Cochran and Joseph Hutchinson, liked the idea of a camp but didn’t think having it on WVU’s campus sounded like much fun. Instead, they thought having the camp in the Monongahela National Forest seemed more appropriate, and they selected Camp Pocahontas, a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp near the Green Bank observatory.
Funded with about $75,000 from the state, two students were selected to represent each state and the District of Columbia. All costs for the students were paid for by the camp. Hutchinson, a professor of astronomy, became the first camp director. Lecturers, seminars and directed study were combined with outdoor activities during the three-week session. The camp was meant as a one-time event. However, it was so successful that West Virginia newspapers ran editorials advocating its continuation. Despite a tight budget and long before there was emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, West Virginia agreed to keep the camp.
Past lecturers at the camp include Neil Armstrong, General Chuck Yeager and John Nash. Outdoor activities include backpacking, caving, rock climbing, mountain biking and kayaking. No longer funded by the state, the camp is supported by the non-profit National Youth Science Foundation. Shown in the photo are the two 1966 campers from West Virginia: Alan Schaeffer of Nitro and Mike Toothman of Morgantown. The camp was limited to boys until 1975 when the first girls were admitted.
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