SM MOUNTAINS — The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and NatureBridge are partnering to create a residential education campus in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains, the organizations announced Thursday. The new Santa Monica Mountains Institute, co-operated by the two groups, will provide out-of-classroom environmental education to the area’s youth.

“Together we are going to help change the lives of thousands of Southern California youth and help a whole new generation make personal and lasting connections to this wonderful place,” NatureBridge CEO Susan Smartt said.

The institute, which will be NatureBridge’s fourth residential education campus, will be located at Circle X Ranch in the canyons above Malibu. Less than an hour away from major urban centers, the proximity will help the park with its goal of better serving local youth.

“For many students, this will be their first experience in a national park setting that hopefully inspires a life-long appreciation for our natural world,” said Woody Smeck, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area superintendent.

Though the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the country’s largest urban national park, fewer than 4 percent of the nearly 5 million school-aged children in the greater Los Angeles Area have access to residential education opportunities through their schools. With the institute, however, as many as 10,000 students per year will have the chance to participate in multi-day field science education programs, Smartt said.

“Santa Monica Mountains Institute will provide an outdoor laboratory for learning and discovery that cannot be replicated by books or classrooms,” Smeck said.

San Francisco-based NatureBridge is the National Park Service’s largest residential environmental education partner. It plans on launching the institute’s first programs for grades five through nine in March of next year.

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