After more than three decades as the site for outdoor education for schools in Europe, Hinterbrand Lodge will likely close its doors for good at the end of the current school year.

Although Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe has not officially announced the closure, school staffs in Europe have been tasked with looking for ways to provide their own outdoor education programs, according to Harvey Gerry, DODDS-Europe chief of staff.

Details of the closure are still being finalized, but “this is the last year we will be using Hinterbrand Lodge for outdoor programs in DODDS-Europe,” Gerry said.

He added that the closure of the lodge, which has been used by American military schools across Europe since 1971, would be discussed at a superintendents’ meeting in January.

Although word of the closure comes in a year that saw cuts in DODDS funding, Gerry said the primary reason is force protection.

“We had to close (the lodge) temporarily after Sept. 11 because of security concerns,” Gerry said. “We’ve tried in the last two years to maintain the program as always, but can we continue to do that? That’s the question we’re studying now.”

The program has been suspended a few times since Sept. 11, 2001, as well.

Gerry said the lodge in Berchtesgaden, Germany, near the Austrian border, is not near a U.S. base and “providing a safe and secure environment doesn’t seem possible until force-protection levels change significantly.”

DODDS officials have asked individual schools to look at resources within their communities that can be used to continue outdoor education programs.

“The question we are dealing with now is what is the best way to continue the program at the school level,” Gerry said.

“This will extend the reach. The farther away the school is, the more it costs to go to Hinterbrand Lodge. We want to be sure the outdoor program, which is valuable, is accessible to all students.

“The schools have had time to look at what they can do in their own communities. We want to make sure they recognize the resources available (to run their own outdoor programs).”

In Bamberg, Germany, high school English teacher Robert Luken said there is no way to replace the resources that Hinterbrand provided. In the yearlong outdoor program, students had access to rock climbing and a ropes course. They also stayed at the lodge for four days and planned and cooked their own meals and did all of the cleaning.

The lodge employs three instructors and a groundskeeper.

“(Hinterbrand) offers such a wide variety of things; we really can’t replace that,” Luken said. “We can’t replace the facilities; we can’t replace the trained staff. It’s a total package.”

Luken, who has accompanied Bamberg High School students to the lodge for nine years, said school-level outdoor programs would not work.

“If we had our own program in Bamberg, we could take them hiking or bicycling, but that’s not the same thing,” he said. “The kids won’t have the same level of enthusiasm.”

“You really see a transformation in the kids during their week at the lodge. They see the food on the table that they prepared, and they’ve spent the week planning and cleaning everything, and working as a team.”

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