What Wilderness Means to Us
To me, Wilderness means we still have a place to go. A place to go immerse in pure, fresh water, a place to go sit on top of a ridge and watch the sun dip below the horizon, a place to go and enjoy the peaceful quietness of an alpine meadow on a sunny summer day. We still have a place to be us.
—Mike Casella, NOLS Marketing Representative
Join Mike at the celebration of the Wilderness Act's 50th anniversary in Albuquerque this weekend. Learn more here.
NOLS Thanks In-Town Staff
Each year, NOLS hands out a few awards to instructors, community members, alumni, and in-town staff to recognize their hard work, dedication, and positive changes in the world. Please join us in congratulating this year's NOLS in-town awardees Alexa Callison-Burch, Debra East and Chris Agnew!
Alexa Callison-Burch: We feel blessed everyday that we get to work with Alexa
Alexa came to NOLS in the summer of 2006 when she completed her first NOLS course, an Absaroka Backpacking course. She is remembered by her instructors, as being passionate about wilderness, having excellent expedition behavior, and fulfilling a role as a mentor for other students. She was engaged with all aspects of the course. This promising performance led her instructors to encourage her to complete a fall Outdoor Educator semester as a step toward becoming an instructor. She completed her instructor course in the spring of 2007 and began working field courses. Since that time, Alexa has worked over 60 field weeks as a hiking and sea kayaking instructor providing many students with inspiring energy and education as they embarked on their own wilderness expeditions. She is committed to providing each student with the opportunity to have life changing experiences on every course she works.
In 2011, Alexa completed a Wilderness EMT course in Lander. She then went on to complete an Instructor Training Course with NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute in November of 2012. Since that time, she has worked WFRs, WFAs, and WFRRs. She is a natural fit given both her organizational skills and teaching acumen.
Alexa’s in-town career began in the NOLS Field Staffing office in 2009, where she helped match field instructors with their courses and students. She moved over to NOLS Rocky Mountain as the evacuation coordinator in 2010. In this role, Alexa has modeled excellence by helping our instructors and the branch manage the diversity of infield challenges and evacuations that arise. She is known and admired for her calm and patient communication style that allows her to support students and instructors in the field. Alexa’s care and empathy for each individual student is felt by all. We have become a more compassionate school due to her influence.
Debra East: For her commitment to inclusion and can-do attitude
After years of running the underground bed and breakfast for NOLS field instructors, Debra began her official NOLS career in 2003. Over the next four years, she shared her skills and passion with such varied departments as purchasing, admissions, marketing, and WMI. In each of these roles she was valued for her upbeat, positive attitude and willingness to do whatever needed doing.
Since joining NOLS in a full-time capacity in 2007, Debra has committed her energies to excellence in customer service. A recent recipient of a Moving Hands Scholarship with American Sign Language interpretation noted, “Her clear and detailed communication, support, and encouragement makes me all the more sure that the National Outdoor Leadership School is the place to be when studying and appreciating the outdoors.”
In 2008, Debra stepped up to become the WMI admissions supervisor. In this role, she has mentored many individuals. One former employee shared, “She allows employees the opportunity and space to navigate their positions and thrive while she stands nearby.” Another reached out to say, “I can’t thank her enough for giving me confidence as a worker and a woman in the workplace.” Debra’s employees hope one day to receive her highest compliment, a new database feature named for them.
Debra’s passionate and tireless work to help NOLS be a school that welcomes everyone has resulted in significant increases in students supported through scholarships, Veteran’s Administration funds, Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards, and most recently 529 Education Awards. Her work to develop an agreement with Western State Colorado University helped students benefit from, and NOLS secure, nearly $1 million in tuition dollars this past year.
Debra goes above and beyond to build relationships with students she supports. After this most recent Wilderness Medicine Expedition for physicians and nurses, three students shared it was their interactions on the phone with Debra that solidified their decision to take the course—because their questions and uncertainties were so well addressed.
Chris Agnew: For his outstanding contributions to our students and mission
Chris took a Spring Semester in Kenya in 1998, and his instructor wrote, “Mr. Energy had a positive effect on every situation he was involved in. He plays hard and works equally hard. He assumed leadership roles and actively learned the stations on the sailing dhow. He was a role model of good expedition behavior to the rest of the expedition members.” Another instructor added, “His undefeatable positive attitude, sense of humor, navigation ability, and easy-going style all contributed to his selection as small group leader.”
In May of 2001, Chris took an Instructor Course at NOLS Rocky Mountain and followed that by working his first course—a July North Cascades Wilderness Course—as a patrol leader.
In January of 2007, Chris transitioned into administrative work as WMI staffing manager at NOLS Headquarters. Staff who worked with him during his in-town years commented that, “he is exceptionally strong in the area of judgment and decision making. He is a critical and organized thinker who weighs the variables quickly and makes sound decisions. He is an articulate and direct communicator who quickly grasps the tenor of the conversation at hand regardless of its impromptu or challenging nature."
Since 2010, Chris has served as Pacific Northwest director with additional oversight over both NOLS India and NOLS Scandinavia. During his time in this role, NOLS has increased the number of students we educate on our Scandinavia program, moved to a more permanent location in Sweden, and created a legal entity in that country. We have also expanded our course offerings at the PNW with the addition of new courses like the Pacific Northwest Spring Quarter and the Pacific Northwest Mountaineering and Sailing and introduced adventure age programming. In India, NOLS has maneuvered through numerous, complex Indian bureaucratic systems and introduced the Himalaya Cultural Expedition. In addition to his directorship responsibilities Chris also currently serves on the leadership team for the NOLS Strategic Plan goal for Exceptional Student Experiences.
What Wilderness Means to Us
As a kid camping in the Wilderness on our annual father-son camping trips to Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains, the grandeur of the untrammeled alpine has always been a source of inspiration, reflectiveness, and challenge for me. Since making my career as a Wilderness advocate, I have come to appreciate the Wilderness legacy that has been bestowed upon us by so many great conservation heroes: people like Olas and Mardy Murie, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir. Because of their vision, I can take my children to those same special places that my dad took me, and discover those places anew through their eyes.
—Aaron Bannon, NOLS Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Director
Join Aaron at the celebration of the Wilderness Act's 50th anniversary in Albuquerque this weekend. Learn more here.
NZSF-1 Cultural Section
NZSF-1 students all healthy and happy at the gateway to the sacred waters of the Riwaka Resurgence
The group is now out Sea Kayaking in the Marlborough sounds with instructors Lloyd Stetson and Andrew Harrison.
What Wilderness Means to Us
Dale Lescher photo
Wild places are an important source of wonder and inspiration in my life. Having and taking advantage of access to wilderness shapes my values, gives me sanctuary for recreation, makes me mindful of how my actions are a part of the world as a whole, and connect me with people in a safe, non-judgmental space. Experiencing and sharing this brings me satisfaction and joy. In this age of fast-paced communication, growth, and change in our society, I think that it is particularly important to preserve wilderness areas and encourage Americans to see, feel, touch, and play in the amazing natural resources that are our wild areas.
I have been uplifted by the overwhelming support for Expedition Denali. It warms my heart to meet people who are touched by wild places and to participate in encouraging all Americans to find themselves in nature.
—Adina Scott, Expedition Denali team member and NOLS graduate
Last week was a busy one at NOLS NZ with Fall Semesters NZSF1 9/11/14 and NZSF 2 9/11/14 back at the branch for the switch between their respective semester sections. Both groups arrived with all students in good health and with smiles on their faces.
NZSF1 enjoyed relatively kind NZ spring weather on their Mountain section and witnessed some spectacularly clear Southern night skies when making their alpine starts. They were able to fit in several peak ascents and some glacial travel on the Ashburton Glacier. The group has now switched ice axes for paddles and is out exploring the Marlborough Sounds on their 22 day Sea Kayak section.
NZSF2 were challenged by strong winds for much of their Sea Kayak section, but managed a 105 nautical mile journey through the Marlborough Sounds. Their section featured encounters with penguins, gannets, dolphins, seals, eels and albino possums and had the closing highlight of a moonlit night kayak in glassy conditions between storm fronts. They've now donned packs and have headed into the Arrowsmith Range for 23 days Mountaineering.
What Wilderness Means to Us
I have spent my whole “adult” life guiding in the wilderness! The feeling that we have in this country is beyond words. Aren’t we so lucky that those with insight were able to put aside these lands in perpetuity, where man is “only a visitor?” It just seems incredible that we have these jewels for ourselves and future generations and they will remain essentially untouched. As has often been said, “They aren’t making that any more.”
—George Hunker, longtime former NOLS instructor
RM Interns Organize Community Garden Cleanup
At NOLS Rocky Mountain, each season the interns are required to develop and facilitate a community outreach project.
They selected this project to get involved with the Lander community, give back, and enjoy some beautiful fall weather.
Burrows and Martin also communicated with local businesses and received food donations for the volunteers who came out for their event.
The volunteers earned their lunch, by building garden beds, sifting dirt, pulling weeds, and helping unload manure. NOLS employees and locals worked together to improve the garden and learn about the community plot.
"We had fun getting our hands dirty and working to help benefit Pushroot Community Garden this weekend. It was great to see the community support and enthusiasm for the volunteer day, especially within local businesses that made the event a success through their donations to the cause," said Burrows.
Take Care of Things: Goodbye Alfred
On the last night of my NOLS course Mandy Pohja pulled an essay out of her pack and we all sat down to debrief the course. We took turns reading “Briefing for Entry into a More Harsh Environment” by Morgan Hite.
It talked about what we could take home from a NOLS course. One of the points is to, “take care of things.”
Hite wrote, “Take care of things. In that other world it's easy to replace anything that wears out or breaks, and the seemingly endless supply suggests that individual objects have little value. Be what the philosopher Wendell Berry calls ‘a true materialist.’ Build things of quality, mend what you have and throw away as little as possible.”
This was the original backpack Pohja took on her student course years ago and she has taken care of it through many good nights in the backcountry.
Pohja reflected on her time with her backpack, “Today I said goodbye to my good friend, Alfred (Yes, I named my backpack, and yes I can fit inside of it). Over the past seven years we have spent 300 nights camping and 1,000 miles hiking together in some amazing places.
Thanks Alfred for all the amazing adventures, and thanks to countless NOLS students and instructors for putting up with his shenanigans.
Alfred, you will be missed.”
Congrats to Mandy for providing an excellent example to students and instructors of how to take care of your gear!
Introducing the First Annual NOLS Exploration Film Tour
This year marks the inaugural NOLS Exploration Film Tour, a series of free events hosted by NOLS that feature outstanding short films created by or about NOLS grads and instructors. The tour has been a hit thus far. After four events—Fairbanks, Anchorage, Bellingham, and Olympia—we are still having fun and learning a lot.
The Exploration Film Tour aimed to be something different. The main goal was to encourage increased participation in outdoor activities by making them more accessible. Secondly, we wanted to broaden recognition and a better understanding of the NOLS name and mission. All showings were free, making room for the curious as well as those already connected to the world of outdoor adventure. We maintained a high standard for films included in this tour and managed to gather nine that inspired, challenged stereotypical cultural norms about who the outdoor enthusiast is, and encouraged critical thought about the outdoors.
All the films are being well received at each location. After each show, there are many thanks from attendees and requests to return next year. Highlights for the audiences have included Craig Muderlak’s film “Maiden Light,” as well as “Golden Ears” and “An American Ascent,” a film about NOLS Expedition Denali. Viewers have raved about watching women climb hard, educational and environmental themes, and the focus on real people rather than sponsored, professional athletes.
We are looking forward to bringing the tour to Birmingham, Atlanta, Greensboro, and Cookeville. Learn more and get your free ticket at explorationfilmtour.com