Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Local teacher brings students closer to nature

Most people can only imagine what it’s like to experience something meaningful from their past for the first time all over again. For longtime Briarhill Middle School teacher Keith Martz, it’s not a concert, senior year of high school, his first real date, learning how to ride a bike, or even the thrill you get spiraling downhill on a rollercoaster. None of those hold a candle to being in the wilderness and experiencing your first hunting, fishing, boating, or camping trip.

Martz is a pro when it comes to that outdoorsy lifestyle. His late father, Russell “Doc” Martz, used to carry him on his back during hunting trips when he was just a small boy. His dad shared everything he knew, and in the years since, Keith has lost count of how many times he’s sat quietly in the blind, navigated wild rapids, and slept in a makeshift tent under a crystal-clear starry sky.

And yet, Martz is one of the lucky few who gets to experience every precious first-time moment all over again — every day.

Along with teaching an outdoor trails class at Briarhill, Martz operates an independent nonprofit called Doc’s Memorial Outdoor Adventures, where he takes students ages 9-17 (mostly from Briarhill) beyond the classroom and treats them to an immersive wilderness experience. This includes 10-13 guided trips a year to hunt, fish, boat, camp, stargaze, and more.

“There’s a shrinking population of people who love being outside, understanding nature … appreciating and respecting it,” Martz said. He has five kids of his own, all of whom have a shared love for the wilderness. “I did this with my kids, and this is one of my ways to pay it forward. It’s a legacy thing. It’s special to be there and watch these kids learn about the outdoors for the first time. And for me, it’s like I get to have that first experience over and over again.

“It’s a big thrill to watch their eyes and hear the excitement in their voices when they get their first deer, dove, duck, or whatever. I also have some kids who have never been camping or seen stars in the sky because of all the light pollution.”

Martz created Doc’s Memorial Outdoor Adventures in October as a separate entity from the Lewisville school district. But he’s been teaching his outdoors class to 7th- and 8th-graders at Briarhill for over 20 years and has taken kids and their parents on outdoor excursions for almost as long.

The school class covers everything about nature and the outdoors, and the goal is to teach hunter safety and boater education so the students can satisfy state requirements to earn their hunter and boating licenses. In the early 2000s, he began looking for ways to get the kids and their parents out of the classroom for small trips to places like the Texas Hill Country, Houston, and San Angelo. At the time, those trips were recognized by Lewisville ISD, and Martz used a combination of his own equipment, gear, and supplies along with school items.

In 2005, he teamed up with the Texas Youth Hunting Program, which gave him access to various resources, including guides and landowners who let the students experience everything nature had to offer.

With Doc’s Memorial Outdoor Adventures, he can expand his reach to students beyond North Texas. And it’s not just about hunting. He hosts a camping trip once a year as well.

“Their parents are required to go, and I do that because while the goal is to get the kids outside, I also want to give them and their parents time together,” Martz said. “That’s what I had with my father, and it’s what I did with my own kids. In fact, two of my boys are now guides and have jobs in that line of work. I’m sort of the facilitator for the trips and help organize everything. We use guides every step of the way, and it’s just a really neat experience for everyone who gets to come.”

He added, “I took one young lady from Houston on one of the trips, and she ended up shooting her first hog. She was all of four feet tall and maybe 70 pounds. And the hog she shot was 350 pounds. The excitement in her voice made it all worth it.”

Like anything else, however, these trips cost money and require resources and gear that aren’t always easy to pay for. Martz tries his best to cover most of the expenses, but he’s currently looking for like-minded individuals who wouldn’t mind volunteering their time. A website is in the works that will provide additional ways for interested parties to donate money.

“Every kid should have the opportunity to experience something like this if it’s something they are interested in,” Martz said. “It’s a genuine thrill.”

For more information, you can visit the organization’s Facebook page at Doc’s Memorial Outdoor Adventures or email Martz at [email protected]

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