Maria Katherman always wanted to be outside instead sitting still in desk at school. In ninth grade she took the bus with local science teachers Beecher Ed Strube and Dana Van Burgh on their Field Science summer program in 1969.

Finally, she had a chance explore her curiosity about the natural world as the class examined plants, rocks, geology and animals.

Strube and Van Burgh started the classes a few years earlier and responded to demand for sessions for older students, teachers and adults. They taught the classes for 52 years as they expanded them around the state and region. Fellow teacher Terrence Logue joined the two founders for about 40 years.

In 1978, Strube and Dana Van Burgh published a book inspired by the classes, “A Field Guide to the Casper Mountain Area” with editor Peggy Knittel.

Logue was among local contributors to that book along with Katherman, who by then worked as an assistant for Field Science Program while in college. He and Katherman still teach field science classes in the community.

The two also co-authored the newly-released second edition and spent Saturday afternoon signing copies of the book with original authors, Strube and Van Burgh, at the Tate Geological Museum at Casper College.

“The field guide is a well-known publication in this area and treasured, but it was out of print,” she said. “So there was a lot of, I would call it clamoring, to update the book and bring forth the new science that’s known.”

A guide to explore

“A Field Guide to the Casper Mountain Area” covers the geology, plants and animals people will find in the area, along with a bit of local history, maps, mileage markers for driving and fold-out diagrams.

The new edition adds new color photos, maps, artwork and diagrams as well as updated scientific knowledge — including how the Rocky Mountains formed through plate tectonics.

“We include the geology, the biology and some of the history,” Logue said. “It seems like Casper Mountain is pretty popular, and I think people that don’t have a science background or a history background picked it up and used it because it was fairly interesting.”

Logue spearheaded the new edition and wrote much of the geology updates, Katherman said. Several local science professionals also contributed to the new guide.

“Terry really writes it in a way you can understand it,” Katherman said. “It’s accessible. And yet it’s real science; it’s the latest science.”

One of the things Logue enjoys about the second edition are new labeled photos that better show the contact points where different geologic formations meet, Logue said. The updates also include a color version of the original, to-scale cross-section diagram of Casper and Muddy mountains.

Katherman, who spent most of her career in plant research, updated plant and animal sections with a little extra information such as medicinal purposes, she said. Readers can find facts in the book about the mountain from marmots to the tree species that change at different elevations.

“I hope everybody, no matter what they’re interested in, this can open a world that’s just right there for us,” Katherman said.

An idea for generations

Strube and Van Burgh looked out a window one day at Dean Morgan High School where they taught general science and mused about how to show students the science they learned in the classroom, Van Burgh said. They started the field science classes in 1964.

“So much of school was just in the classroom,” Van Burgh said. “There’s more to it than that.”

Not only did students learn the names and facts about the science, they were excited to keep exploring and learn more, Strube said. Booklets they made for students to reference became a book about the Alcova area and the Casper Mountain field guide.

“They get interested in it that way, and they know where to go now,” Strube said.

Experiencing the wildlife, plants and geology out in nature changed Katherman’s world view, she said.

“I’m kind of a feral human; I like to be outside, and I was outside every day, and that was my world,” Katherman said. “Seeing it from a scientific view as well as from a wild child’s view, it enhanced my experience of the world.”

She also recalled the teachers’ raconteur over geology versus biology. Van Burgh would groan about another flower stop, she said, and Logue would play the straight man every good comedy team needs, she added.

“It was joyful to be on the bus with them,” Katherman said. “It really was just this constant banter.”

Cindy Farrell was among visitors on Saturday who also shared memories from the field science class. The former Spanish teacher recalled Strube’s excitement about a leopard lily she brought into class in her specimen book.

The flower with grass-like leaves is rare and hard to spot, but now she keeps an eye out for the flower each spring in her yard. It’s one of many ways she still enjoys and understands more about Casper and Wyoming that she otherwise might not have, she added.

“It was all hands on, it was all positive and just with lots of energy,” Farrell said. “It was such a valuable experience.”

Kathleen Giangiacomo wasn’t familiar with the classes, but she brought an original edition she’s owned for about 10 years and picked up the new edition on Saturday. She and her family have used the book to explore the mountain’s minerals, rock formations and history, including the mines and homesteader Neal Forsling and mineral rocks on the mountain, she said.

Strube and Van Burgh smiled as they shared memories, shook hands and signed copies of the book with the visitors.

They hope “A Field Guide to the Casper Mountain Area” will keep encouraging people in Casper to explore and learn outdoors.

“If we can just get people to go out and look, amazing things will happen,” Van Burgh said. “Put the cell phone in the pocket and go sit on the hillside and just sit there for a while, look and listen.”

Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner


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