A Brief History

The Friends of NJSOC was launched in March 1987 at a meeting of NJSOC faculty and approximately 20 staff members from visiting schools. Attendance at the meeting, which was held at the School of Conservation, reflected NJSOC’s clientele—including long- and short-term program participants, public and private schools, and professionals working with students at varying grade levels. The group discussed potential volunteer projects, and an invitation to join the organization was extended at NJSOC’s Spring Teacher Training Workshop in 1988.

As stated in the group’s Constitution, the purpose of the Friends of NJSOC was “to serve as an independent support group, assisting in financial needs and support services.” The group’s first major project was to fund and assist in the construction of a new climbing wall. In addition, they purchased spinning and weaving supplies for DeGroat Cabin programs, and developed and planted an herb garden for use in making natural dyes for American Craft Heritage skills programs. The group also purchased necessary curriculum materials for classes in the Natural Sciences. Service projects including painting DeGroat Cabin and grading the roads to the Wapalanne cabins were completed as well.

The Friends also recognized the accomplishments and contributions of individuals who had provided outstanding service through its annual Friends of NJSOC Award of Merit.

The Friends group remained active through 1996 and, after a period of inactivity, was revived through the efforts of Kerry Kirk Pflugh (daughter of former NJSOC Director, Dr. John J. Kirk) and Shayne Russell (former Wapalanne camper and counselor) at the request of current NJSOC Director, Dr. Bill Thomas, in 2015.

The new Friends group continued the original mission of supporting NJSOC, and took on projects focusing on restoration, preservation, and advocacy. Beginning as a small group consisting largely of former Camp Wapalanne campers and counselors, the Friends expanded their reach to include NJSOC supporters from a large cross-section of the School’s past and present programs in preparation for a three-day celebration of NJSOC’s 70thAnniversary in October 2019.

Less than a year later, the closure of NJSOC was announced, with the Friends of NJSOC becoming the driving force in an effort to save the School. After seven months of negotiation with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, owners of NJSOC, the Friends secured a limited Right of Access agreement making it possible to reopen the School in May 2021. With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the School opened on a small scale. offering a variety of single-day, socially distanced, outdoor programs led by volunteer experts.