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FLOC introduces city kids to the environment

August 11, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHANNONDALE, W.Va. -- Rob Stull sees himself as a modern-day Robin Hood.

Stull, 33, is the outreach coordinator for FLOC (For Love of Children), a Washington, D.C., nonprofit started 45 years ago to find permanent homes for youths living in the city's overcrowded foster homes and orphanages.

The program has since expanded to the Outdoor Education Center on 350 acres of mountain land on Blue Ridge Mountain 25 miles south of Charles Town, W.Va., off Mission Road.

Stull charges corporations, businesses, private schools and others to use FLOC facilities and programs, and uses the profits for programs for at-risk youths.

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FLOC runs academic and environmental education programs in the Washington area for students in elementary through high school. They learn about nature and life skills through organized activities in a safe, quiet, natural setting.

Environmental education is stressed at FLOC.

"We build leadership through learning, trust and challenge so kids can grow up to be contributing members of the community," Stull said. "We get kids into the environment."

FLOC moved onto the land in 1971. Over the years, a lodge, cabins, dining and meeting halls, and an administration building were added.

More than 1,500 people -- half students, half adults -- use the facilities and programs every year, Stull said.

They come from FLOC's own programs in Washington, as well as local public and private schools.

Stull's job is reaching out and recruiting corporations, businesses, church and government groups, and others who pay FLOC. They make up about 75 percent of all who use the site.

One of the most popular and challenging features of all FLOC programs is the rope climb, which is used by youths and adults to develop team-building and leadership skills.

Stull calls the high-wire obstacle course a "big kids playground." It looks as if it would challenge a squad of Green Berets if it wasn't for the safety harnesses attached to each participant.

Rising more than 30 feet in the air over a stream, the course consists of a series of narrow inclines, wire and cable bridges that look more like tightropes. After all of the scaling, climbing and working their way over the bridges, participants end up on a small platform high above the ground. The only way off is a 300-foot ride down a zip line.

FLOC runs a weekly continuing education program tied to the FLOC philosophy at a Charles Town middle school. Students volunteer for the after-school program, Stull said.

FLOC leases 250 acres in the 1,300-acre Rolling Ridge Foundation on Blue Ridge Mountain. FLOC bought a contiguous 100 acres to add to its program space.

The land owned by the foundation was donated as a conservation easement by the Niles family, Stull said. Hidden well into Blue Ridge Mountain, the easement is managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., for the foundation.

Two other entities -- Friends Wilderness Center and the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat -- also lease foundation land.

More than 12 miles of hiking trails available for public use run through the land.

For permission to use the trails, call FLOC at 304-725-0409. Its Web site is www.flocoutdoors.org.

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