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Best of Arlington 2017

Outdoor Lab

Best Field Trip

A science experiment with Outdoor Lab director Neil Heinekamp. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Head into the rolling hills of Fauquier County on a school day and you never know what you might stumble upon: Third-graders attempting to lift a teacher off the ground using pulleys and levers (it’s part of a lesson on physics). Sixth-graders foraging for food and then building a fire to hone their survival skills. High school students orienteering on a mountainside, compasses in hand. Or fifth-graders trekking through the woods after dark, sans flashlights, in search of nocturnal creatures. (For the latter age group, this annual overnight trip, which also includes lessons on water quality, weather patterns, geological formations and animal taxonomy, along with tent-camping, campfires and cookouts, is a rite of passage in their last year of elementary school.)

Outdoor Lab—shorthand for The Phoebe Hall Knipling Outdoor Lab—is a 225-acre living classroom that welcomes more than 9,000 Arlington Public Schools students to its grounds every year. Directed by Arlington naturalist Neil Heinekamp, the all-season operation has a spring-fed stream, a pond, hiking trails, plant and animal identification areas, camping sites, a kitchen and dining facilities—and even an observatory with a 10-inch reflecting telescope for astronomy studies.

—Jenny Sullivan