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Around noon Wednesday, I set out to see the sights at Ponderosa State Park, which sits on the beautiful shores of Payette Lake.

While exploring, I stumbled upon an unfamiliar [to me] treasure in the heart of the state park: the McCall Outdoor Science Camp.

This camp, complete with cabins, a dining hall, and a spectacular view, is put on by the University of Idaho year-round at the park.

While taking pictures on the beach of Payette Lake, I ran into a group of students performing science experiments near the water. The 5th and 6th graders told me they were testing the pH levels, and temperature of the water (which is a balmy 39 degrees).

Gary Thompson is the Leadership Coordinator of UI's science camp. This week, Thompson said they have 98 campers from Maple Grove Elementary School in Boise. Along with those students, are parents, chaperones, and teachers.

The students stay at the camp for an entire week to learn about the environment and science. Then they are able to put what they learn to use in the great outdoors.

Shirley Wolfe, Lisa Groff, and Gina Bush are all 6th grade teachers at Maple Grove Elementary. They said the school has been participating in the McCall Outdoor Science School for about 11 years. It started with an outreach program. UI graduate students traveled to Boise to teach the children in their classrooms. Then, Maple Grove Elementary decided to take the kids out of the classroom to see how they would do at the outdoor science camp.

The teachers said the kids do extremely well in the outdoor setting. Even students who don't learn as well in the classroom, are making great strides by learning with a hands-on approach.

The teachers and the kids' parents are highly involved in the camp. The principal said their involvement, and the partnerships they have with the McCall community are what make the camp possible for the students at Maple Grove.

When it comes to funding the students' trip to camp, the kids and parents pay their own way. The Parent-Teacher Association helps a little, and there are scholarships available to help kids who might otherwise not be able to attend.

The teachers from Maple Grove said some parents are so passionate about the camp, they pay extra in order to give less-fortunate students the opportunity to camp.

There are 18 graduate students, who come from across the country, working at the science camp.

For the graduate students, campers, parents, teachers, and UI staff, the McCall Outdoor Science camp is an experience like no other -- and the amazing view doesn't hurt either.

For more information about the camp, visit the McCall Outdoor Science School web site.

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