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updated: 5/19/2012 12:29 AM

Prairie Crossing students find body on camping trip

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  • Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake

    Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake


Prairie Crossing Charter School seventh-graders returned home early from a spring camping trip to a Wisconsin state park after finding a woman's body at the bottom of a 100-foot overlook.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials are investigating the 56-year-old woman's death that occurred Thursday at Devil's Lake State Park near Baraboo. Park Superintendent Steve Schmelzer said foul play is not suspected in the death of the McFarland, Wis., woman.

Nigel Whittington, executive director of the Grayslake choice school, issued a letter Friday about the seventh-graders' early return home. He said the students, teachers and chaperones left for the camping excursion Tuesday morning and returned about 11 p.m. Thursday.

Whittington stated in his letter some of the pupils and teachers were hiking Thursday at the cliff tops at Devil's Lake when they reached the overlook. He said the children and adults found a purse, then the students spotted someone at the base when they looked toward the bottom.

"The group called down but got no response," Whittington said. "With no clear route down from the cliff top, the adults contacted the park rangers as something appeared to be amiss."

Schmelzer said the Prairie Crossing party was about 100 feet above the cliff base where the woman was spotted. He said someone from the group used a radio call box at the top of the scenic rock overlook to alert the rangers about 3 p.m. Thursday.

"The West Bluff Trail they were on is probably one of the most popular trails in the park and in all of Wisconsin," Schmelzer said.

Schmelzer said the Sauk County coroner pronounced the woman dead at the scene.

Whittington wrote that while the group was safe, the adults decided to break camp and bring the students home a day early. He said the Wisconsin DNR rangers informed the Prairie Crossing staff the woman had died at the scene.

Group counseling was made available Friday morning and students were able to make individual appointments, according to Whittington's letter.

Prairie Crossing is an environmentally focused school with a 392-student capacity, with enrollment determined by lottery. Students from within the boundaries of Fremont Elementary District 79 and Woodland Elementary District 50 may attend the charter school at no extra cost.

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