Seeking Hands-On Outdoor Experience
After World War II, developers transformed much of Arlington County’s open land into urban neighborhoods, destroying open meadows, forests, and other natural areas. By the mid-1960s, Dr. Phoebe Hall Knipling, Science Supervisor at Arlington Public Schools (and the first person to hold such a position in Virginia), encountered a major challenge to developing the district's science curriculum: her students’ lack of hands-on experiences with nature and wildlife.
Beginning in the 1950s, Dr. Knipling worked hard to create a more engaging, participatory science curriculum. She started the school system’s annual science fair, a relatively new educational exercise at the time, and ran a summer science program to take students on excursions through natural areas outside the metropolitan area. But Dr. Knipling found it increasingly difficult to locate natural, relatively untouched areas close to Arlington for these field trips.
Dr. Knipling spent three years searching for an undisturbed area to reserve as an outdoor laboratory exclusively for Arlington County students to observe the forces of nature at work.
The Arlington Outdoor Education Association
In 1967, she located a 200-acre site in Fauquier County at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the help of parents, school staff, and other community members, Dr. Knipling spearheaded the creation of a nonprofit, the Arlington Outdoor Education Association (AOEA), to raise money to purchase the land. The group, led by President Mrs. Susan T. Baker, raised enough money to purchase the tract from Mary Rose Striker, who agreed to sell the property for far less than market value since the land would be preserved. On March 14, 1968, the AOEA purchased the land. At Dr. Knipling’s suggestion, the AOEA named the area the “Floraunaretum,” meaning the “interaction of flora and fauna in an outdoor setting” or Wonderful Valley. Students from all grades began to visit the site in order to learn about animals, plants, and ecosystems.
The Outdoor Laboratory
In 1975, the AOEA voted unanimously to rename the Floraunaretum the Phoebe Hall Knipling Outdoor Laboratory to honor her years of service to science education in Arlington County. Dr. Knipling worked tirelessly to raise funds in support of the Outdoor Lab until her death in 1998. Today, the 225-acre Outdoor Lab’s forests, fields, lake, trails, and facilities serves as a natural classroom to help Arlington's urban youth enjoy, experience, and observe nature.