LAWRENCE — Generations of University of Kansas students have roamed the rocks at the KU Geology Field Camp in Cañon City, Colorado. And because of the fond memories of a geology alumnus, generations more will experience the camp’s unique, indelible learning environment.
The Harrison Family Fund at the Douglas County Community Foundation gave a $2 million gift to the Harrison Family Geology Field Camp Operating Fund to ensure the camp will continue its mission of giving students hands-on field experience. The gift also provides five $5,000 scholarships each year to offset students’ costs to attend.
Students are based at a camp facility on 35 acres north of Cañon City. They work in various nearby project areas while taking a class in field geology, a course every KU geology major must complete to graduate. Field geology has been taught in the area since 1922 and recently celebrated its centennial.
Robert “Bob” Harrison of Lawrence, who received a degree in geology from KU in 1938, had great memories of his time there. His son and daughter-in-law, Phil and Beth Harrison, knew the field camp experience held a special place in Bob’s heart. Before his death in 2011, he expressed his wishes that part of his estate be used to help ensure the future of the field camp.
The first significant contribution from the Harrison Family Fund was made in 2018. The Blue Ridge mapping area, one of the most important project areas, was threatened. The property was up for sale and could have been lost to a developer dividing the land. The Harrison Family Fund at the Douglas County Community Foundation gave a gift to enable the KU Department of Geology to buy the Blue Ridge property, 600 acres of land outside of Cañon City, to preserve this one-of-a-kind geology project area.
“When the students attend the geology camp, they actually get to ‘do geology’ and see the actual metamorphosis of the rocks they have been studying,” said Beth Harrison, a former music educator. “They speak about the rocks they have seen with the same passion that I speak about music.”
Doug Walker, Union Pacific Resources Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geology, said the field camp experience is essential to geology majors and that the Harrison Family Geology Field Camp Operating Fund will provide not only maintenance but supplemental funds for faculty and teaching assistants because teaching field camp is an undertaking unlike any regular campus course.
“For four to six weeks, we live there and go out and teach 10 hours a day, out with students, walking around. It’s a constant hands-on experience and a huge jumping-off point for students,” Walker said. “There probably aren’t many other capstone courses that have as many contact hours with faculty as this course. We are so grateful to Beth for helping make this happen.”
Dalton Pell, an incoming senior from Los Angeles majoring in geology, is a Harrison field camp scholarship recipient and attended the camp for three weeks in June. He said he was immediately drawn to the geology program at KU during his first visit to campus.
“It’s the sciences, it’s outdoors, and I love being hands-on. It’s everything I love in one academic field,” Pell said.
Pell said that KU students are lucky to have a place to call their own. And attending camp means forming bonds with fellow campers that can last a lifetime.
“It’s really valuable to work with people in a real-world environment where it’s not an air-conditioned classroom all the time,” he said. “It’s challenging, and for us to work on it together is really important. I wouldn’t give back any of it, and it’s not something many people can say they’ve done.”
Top image: Beth Harrison at the KU Geology Field Camp centennial celebration, summer 2022. Credit: Diane Silver.
Right image: Beth and Phil Harrison, at right, in 1985. The photo was taken at a Chancellors Club celebration.