Two years ago, Hi Hill Outdoor School had to close temporarily because of heavy snowfall. This week it closed because of unusually dry weather and only half an inch of rain so far this year that pose a fire risk.
The U.S. Forest Service closed the entire Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains, which includes the Mt. Wilson area where Hi Hill is located. The closure is expected to last until January or as long as it takes to get at least three inches of rain or snow.
Heavy Santa Ana winds are expected this weekend, further increasing the already high fire danger from dry brush and trees.
"Until we receive an all-clear notice from the U.S. Forest Service to resume operation, Hi Hill will remain closed," said camp director Ken Mendonca.
To allow all 7,800 fifth graders from the Long Beach Unified School District to attend the popular outdoor science camp, abbreviated 2.5 day sessions may be necessary when the school reopens.
A revised schedule of camp visits will be issued later this month, subject to the camp reopening on January 1. If sufficient rain falls earlier, and Hi Hill is allowed to reopen sooner, schools that were already scheduled to visit Hi Hill for a week at that time will be allowed to do so.
"Our goal is not to have any fifth graders miss out on the extraordinary experience of Hi Hill," said Mendonca. He plans to operate the school during spring vacation and next summer to accommodate all schools.
More than 280,000 students have attended Hi Hill since it opened as one of California’s first outdoor science schools in 1948. The school offers students hands-on learning in astronomy, geology, ecology, biology, botany, entymology, ornithology, meteorology and other sciences. They learn firsthand about the water cycle, the food chain, symbiosis and various science concepts. For many students, this is their first experience studying away from home.