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Wilderness Medicine Institute


Teton Valley Ranch Camp and the WRMC

The latest installment of the WRMC blog series profiles Teton Valley Ranch Camp (TVRC), a Western style youth camp that has been operating in Wyoming for 75 years, and stands as Wyoming's most historic residential summer camp. In this interview we caught up with TVRC Executive Director Carly Platt.

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The mission of Teton Valley Ranch Camp is to provide educational excellence in camp programming in an enriching western environment. 

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WRMC: What do your participants gain from the wilderness setting?

TVRC: An appreciation and love for the wild places of Wyoming and the planet. An understanding of the principles and practices of Leave No Trace. Knowledge about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: wildlife, plant life, geology, ecology, and our role as stewards of the environment. Recognition that spending time in the outdoors can be FUN! The basic hard skills needed to plan and execute a backcountry expedition and an ability to identify hazards and manage risk proactively.

WRMC: Why does your organization send employees to the WRMC?

TVRC: Risk management is an important practice in all aspects of our organization's programming. The WRMC has been particularly helpful for us as we make policy and decisions to manage the risk of bringing young children on backpacking and horse packing trips in remote Wyoming wilderness areas. Especially helpful to us in recent years have been ideas for staff training, advice on legal considerations, and conversations about "hot topics" and other current industry trends. Another hugely beneficial aspect of the conference is networking and sharing ideas with other backcountry program directors. It is helpful to speak with others in the backcountry industry, even if their programs look very different from our summer camp setting.

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WRMC: How has attending the WRMC helped you provide a better experience for your participants?

TVRC: By regularly attending the WRMC, we are able to stay informed about current industry standards and best practices to ensure an objectively high quality, educational, and fun experience for our campers. At the conference, we are challenged annually to revisit our programmatic decisions and to incorporate exciting new ideas in the months leading up to our summer season. Through lessons and frameworks we have learned over the years, we have also been able to incorporate risk management into our curriculum as an important takeaway for our staff and campers alike!

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WRMC: How has attending the WRMC changed the way you manage your program?

TVRC: Attending the WRMC has provided our year-round staff with principles, resources, and connections to make risk management an institutional priority. More than anything, the opportunity to have conversations and share ideas with other leaders in the backcountry industry has made our program stronger and stronger with each year we attend.

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We feel lucky to have outstanding WRMC attendees like the staff from Teton Valley Ranch Camp joining the discussion each year. For the chance to network with knowledgeable and experienced folks from TVRC and other similar organizations please join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.

Click on the image below to learn more about the WRMC or to register online.

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Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Aug 28, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Professional Training, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

City Kids Wilderness Project and the WRMC

The Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) unites hundreds of the nation’s leading outdoor organizations, schools, and businesses annually in an effort to “offer an outstanding educational experience to help mitigate the risks inherent in exploring, working, teaching, and recreating in wild places.” WRMC attendees absorb and learn a lot from one another through workshops, exercises, structured networking sessions, and much more.

We want to highlight some of the organizations that continually come the WRMC and find out why they attend and how the WRMC has influenced their risk management practices. Recently, we interviewed Colleen McHugh, the program director of City Kids Wilderness Project (CKWP), an outstanding nonprofit youth organization that has been returning annually to the WRMC.

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City Kids Wilderness Project is founded on the belief that providing enriching life experiences for underserved and at-risk D.C. children can enhance their lives, the lives of their families, and the greater community. 

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WRMC: What do your participants gain from wilderness or remote settings?

McHugh: Each youth experiences something different from their wilderness experiences at City Kids. The program is a multi-year commitment for each youth. They begin their experience at the end of sixth grade, and our goal is to continue working with each individual through high school graduation and beyond. In returning each summer to the Jackson Hole area as well as participating in outdoor activities throughout the school year, youth develop a long-term relationship with the wilderness. For some, it provides a sense of peace and reflection, and for others it provides challenge and an opportunity to push themselves. A few find a life-long love of the outdoors and continue to pursue it as a field of study or career choice. Most of our campers talk about their experience as empowering and significant in expanding their worldview and their understanding of their own personal strengths and capabilities. City Kids becomes a second home for participants, a break from stressors of their life in D.C., and a space for them to explore their potential.  

WRMC: Why does your organization send employees to the WRMC?

McHugh: As a small organization, the WRMC is a great opportunity for City Kids as an organization and individual staff members to connect with resources and other organizations. The WRMC allows us to learn from the experiences of larger programs and draw on resources from programs and experts who have developed great tools for their own programs. It has been extremely helpful in helping staff members calibrate our own practices with others in the industry and talk and compare with programs of a similar size. Sending multiple staff members has allowed us to spread out during the conference and make the most of the networking and workshops offered; additionally, the diversity in workshops allow both program staff and management staff to attend programs most relevant to their roles. It also provides a critical space and time in a busy program schedule for staff to step back and focus on risk management in the implementation of our programs.   

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WRMC: How has attending the WRMC helped you provide a better experience for your participants?

McHugh: On an organizational level, all staff and participants are more actively engaged in risk management. Clarity in our risk management practices have provided a more consistent experience for participants and translated to more clear program goals in the education of participants. This has been empowering for participants taking a more active role in managing risk within the group or as an individual. Youth in the program now play an active role in all trip activity briefings. Overall, the practices learned from the WRMC have helped us provide more structure and thoughtful programs for participants, which translates to a better experience on a daily level.  

WRMC: How has attending the WRMC changed the way you manage your program?

McHugh: Over the last few years, attending the WRMC has significantly impacted how City Kids manages risk and operates as a program. The WRMC and NOLS Risk Management Training have provided a language, common framework, and structure for our management team in addressing risk. Broadly, the WRMC has stimulated conversation about organizational risk and program goals and again provided a common framework for staff members to discuss risk management. More specifically, attending the WRMC prompted some significant review of our risk management practices. Some of these projects include reviewing and updating our participant agreement, reviewing and updating our medical review system, writing a risk management plan, and thinking critically of our design of staff training. Risk management is now a part of the living culture of City Kids and ingrained in the ways we talk and implement our programs.

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We would like to extend a big thank you to City Kids Wilderness Project for their contributions to the WRMC every year. We look forward to having them share their knowledge and experiences again this year. Come take advantage of the opportunity to network with the great folks at City Kids Wilderness Project and other similar organizations. Join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.

Click on the image below to learn more about the WRMC or to register online.

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Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Aug 14, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Professional Training, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

Montana Conservation Corps & the WRMC

In this installment of the Wilderness Risk Management Conference blog series, we are focusing our attention on the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC). This nonprofit development program for young adults has been following in the footsteps of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, using conservation projects to foster citizenship and personal growth in its members. WRMC staff caught up with Montana Conservation Corps Program Director Lee Gault, who represented MCC at the WRMC 10 years ago, and asked him about the dynamic relationship that has been evolving between MCC and the WRMC for over a decade.

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In the span of one year, the MCC, as a single branch, is able to train 300-400 participants of varying age groups and backgrounds. The different programs offered at MCC also vary greatly. One program in particular, the Veterans Green Corps, serves American military veterans who are “transitioning from military to civilian life” and “range in age from 24-35” said Gault. Using the training and exposure that the MCC program provides, many American veterans who are MCC alumni are able to transition into civilian positions and go on to work with the national parks service and the national forest service.

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In addition to the veterans program, roughly 80 percent of MCC members are young adults who work on projects ranging from bioresearch and watershed restoration to trail restoration, community service, and much more. While at MCC, participants go through a maturation process brought on through challenging projects and “usually return with a firm commitment to advocate for, protect, and defend wilderness and our public lands in general” said Gault.

The MCC curriculum is designed to help members foster a deep-seated passion for the great outdoors through leadership development, technical outdoor skills, and environmental stewardship. MCC field programs hire “about 250 young adults, 18-30 years old from all over the country and all education levels,” Gault said. “All of them are AmeriCorps national service participants, and they serve varying length terms of service from a three-month summer term to a full nine months. We also serve around 150 Montana high-school-age teens in our summer Youth Service Expeditions program. They do a month-long mini-MCC experience completing most of the same work as our field crews.”

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After such a longstanding commitment to attending the WRMC, we asked Gault to explain why MCC decides to send staff to the WRMC year after year. “We have found the WRMC to be the best professional development opportunity for risk management related to our field. There are topics relevant to every staff person at every level. It keeps us abreast of the state of the art in risk management, and it exposes our staff to the top thinkers and practitioners in the field,” Gault explained. “Every year we make changes and adaptations to our current practices, procedures and policies based on things we learned from the WRMC.”

Gault emphasized that the WRMC has provided a better experience for MCC participants: “[The WRMC] has helped in almost every area: screening and intake, hiring, training, leadership, field communication, in-field medical care, fostering positive crew dynamics, technical practices, emergency response, even office practices.”

As a community-empowering conservation organization, MCC stands as a great asset to the outdoor community and we are proud to have them as a contributing member of the WRMC family once again this year. If you are a community-based conservation organization, come take advantage of the opportunity to network with the knowledgeable staff from MCC and other similar organizations. Please join us at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, October 1-3, 2014.

To learn more about the WRMC or to register online, click on the following image:

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Written and Edited by Rahel Manna

Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Aug 12, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Leadership, Professional Training, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Risk Management Conference

In-Town Staff Value Out-of-Office Play

It's no secret that NOLS is a great place to work. Listed in Outside Magazine's "100 Best Places to Work" for the last six years, NOLS has been recognized nationally for its commitment to outdoor education and encouraging a good work-life balance. [Read more on this recognition here.]

NOLS employees are allowed to work flexible schedules so they can get outside and play. Many staff members at NOLS take advantage of this perk. With support from supervisors, employees can take time out of the workday to participate in community-wide lunchtime bike rides, climb at the local crag or complete individual training regimens.

The organization also takes that support a step further by encouraging staff to participate in races and multi-day events, even when these events take place on weekdays. NOLS employees are participating in outdoor ventures all over the world but are also playing roles in Wyoming’s growing adventure race scene. 

For example, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute employees Kira Gilman, Jill Moeller, and Anna Horn entered and competed in the inaugural REV3 Casper Strong Full Day Adventure Race at their supervisor's urging. 

The team members cheered each other through a series of unique and entertaining events in Casper, Wyoming. The Casper Strong race was a team effort and these three ladies bonded while tackling challenges along the course.

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Gilman began the race for WMI’s team with a 12-mile trail run and then completed an archery section on top of Casper Mountain. Moeller then competed in the next leg of the race, mountain-biking and carrying a 50-pound salt block uphill. Finally, Horn tubed a whitewater section of the North Platte River to the finish line.

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This winning team returned to the office with Casper Strong belt buckles and many stories to share.

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"It was fun to have my supervisor encourage me to try something new and challenge myself. The push I receive from co-workers to pursue personal goals and well-being outside of the office is a huge part of what has made working in-town for NOLS sustainable for me," Horn reflected.

NOLS is committed to continuing its support and encouragement of employee wellness—a key ingredient in what makes the school an awesome place to work!

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Permalink | Posted by Kim Freitas on Jul 31, 2014 in the following categories: In The News, Wilderness Medicine Institute

That's Not the NOLS Bus!

The Monday morning walk to work was a little different for NOLS Headquarters employees this week, as they were greeted by a 1970 Crown bus at the building entrance.

Three men campaigning for Wyoming Democrat Charlie Hardy for U.S. Senate made their way to 284 Lincoln St. in Lander this morning. Hardy is a Wind River Wilderness ‘75 graduate, and Bruce Wilkinson, owner of this campaign bus, is a Wilderness First Responder.

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Nick, Felix, and Bruce greeted NOLS staff as they arrived at work this morning. Jeanne O'Brien photo

Wilkinson spoke of Hardy’s connection to nature and desire to create a better future drawing him to NOLS. Wilkinson, bus driver Nick Brasheer, and fellow campaigner Felix Agulto share Hardy’s outdoor interests as well as his political views and made plans to hike around Sinks Canyon this afternoon before hitting the road for Wright, Wyoming.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jul 28, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, Rocky Mountain, Wilderness Medicine Institute

NOLS Supports Cowboy Tough Adventure Race In its Second Year

The Cameco and City of Casper Cowboy Tough Expedition Race from Lander to Casper, Wyoming is back for a second year! Once again, NOLS is a major sponsor of this event.

NOLS will support this event by providing WEMTs trained by the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI). These WEMTs will join the medical crew and help support racers along the 330- to 400-mile race course. They’ll travel in cars scanning the course and using their training to provide medical attention racers need along the course.

Held in Wyoming’s backcountry, this one-of-a-kind adventure race challenges individuals and teams to test their limits. The race terrain is rugged and wild.

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The race consists of multiple activities including trekking, mountain biking, paddling, white water rafting, ropes and additional team challenges.

Teams will start the three-and-a-half-day race in a genuine ghost town— South Pass City. Each day of the race is broken down into different sections that racers are given 16 to 24 hours to complete.

In this adventure race, there are mandatory checkpoints each day. For those who want a bit more out of the race, there are optional checkpoints to give elite racers an additional challenge. After feedback from last year, this year’s race was designed to be even more difficult.

Racers compete in two categories: competitive and those who just want to finish. For competitive racers, this event serves as a national qualifying race for the North American Adventure Racing Series (NAARS).   

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Last year, NOLS sent a team to compete in the full race. This year, NOLS is sending a team of WMI representatives (Kira Gilman, Anna Horn and Jill Moeller) to the Casper Strong Adventure Race.

The Casper Strong Adventure Race is a separate event that will be held on July 19 at Crossroads Park. This day-long adventure race will include the following disciplines: trail run, archery, mountain biking and white-water tubing.

NOLS has been taking students into Wyoming’s backcountry for 50 years and is excited to support an event that encourages people to visit wild places.

This event also aligns with NOLS’ values of assessing risks, developing tolerance for adversity and uncertainty, and minimizing risks associated with recreational activities.

Permalink | Posted by Kim Freitas on Jul 1, 2014 in the following categories: In The News, Wilderness Medicine Institute

Not Just a Building in Town

The Lander Cycling Club hosted the fifth annual Fremont Area Road Tour in NOLS’ hometown of Lander, Wyoming last weekend, and the NOLS presence coursing throughout the event was prevalent.

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As a participant and NOLS employee, I found it exciting to see the people I work with and the organization I work for playing such an important role in an activity I enjoy in my personal time.

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For months, I’ve been watching our own senior graphic designer Sam Pede coordinate the event, and when I thanked her, she was quick to pass credit to others at NOLS for lifting the tour to a professional level. Pede noted the efforts of PR and Partnerships Manager in organizing Wilderness First Responders to provide SAG support for the event. She said having those folks riding the various courses was essential. Among these skilled WMI grads was NOLS Social Media Coordinator Jared Steinman, who also took countless photos to capture the sense of community, enjoyment, and dedication out of the road (including all photos used in this blog post).

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Also aiding riders out on the road, which included many NOLS staff and grads, was one item no cyclist will undervalue: food. The Gulch of NOLS Rocky Mountain donated heaps of food to be placed at aid stations around the county. It was a delightful day out there touring Fremont County, and it was even more special to see, once again, how important community events like these are to NOLS.

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Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jun 17, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, In The News, Rocky Mountain, Wilderness Medicine Institute

NOLS at the LEED Platinum celebration in Billings, Montana!

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WMI Director Melissa Gray and Assistant Director Shana Tarter represented NOLS at a LEED Platinum celebration hosted by High Plains Architects in Billings, MT.  High Plains Architects were the lead designers for the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus.  In addition to a recognition certificate from the Montana chapter of the USGBC, representatives for Montana Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh, and a representative for Governor Steve Bullock shared words of support for sustainable building.

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* LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project. http://www.usgbc.org/leed

Permalink | Posted by Leslie van Barselaar on Apr 11, 2014 in the following categories: Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

Triple Platinum

On April 10, High Plains Architects will celebrate the construction of three new LEED Platinum Certified buildings, one of which is our very own Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus!

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"Every once in awhile, a rare opportunity comes along to work with a client who not only shares your values but challenges you to strive for more ambitious goals," the High Plains website states on a page about the Wyss Campus. "For us, that was the National Outdoor Leadership School. They selected High Plains Architects to closely work with them to spearhead designing the state of the art, high performance Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus outside of Lander, Wyoming."

This campus was designed to at once have minimal impact upon the beautiful setting and include outdoor and indoor classroom space for wilderness medicine students. So far, 618 students in 26 courses have been educated in (and outside) these remarkable facilities. You can learn more about all the campus has to offer in this video:

Congratulations and thanks, High Plains Architects!

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Apr 9, 2014 in the following categories: In The News, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

WMI Works to Reduce Paper Usage

The NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute hosts 750 courses around the world each year. WMI offers courses for students interested in gaining practical knowledge in backcountry emergency and medical care. Teaching sessions are divided into classroom time and outdoor emergency scenarios. Outside of class, students study hard using their course books. Instructors get packets too, containing logistical information, exams, and quizzes. While WMI instructors are teaching cutting edge curriculum and facilitating lifelike medical scenarios in stunning backcountry settings, folks in the WMI office are fine-tuning another critical component of their courses: the paperwork. Staff took the time to rethink their paper usage in forms and exams with the goal of reducing waste.  

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Photo: Caitlin Camilliere

To accomplish this, WMI asked a group of instructors to identify what they were and were not using in their packets. Over the years, extra pages have been added into the packet in response to demand. Instructors pointed out the sections of the course packets commonly overlooked or not used, and eliminated those sections. For example, thirty-five pages from the two-day WFA course were removed. That is a 17,500-page reduction for this course type in one year! This will cut down on shipping weight and reduce the amount of paper recycled or thrown away.

More often than not, Wilderness EMT students arrive at their course with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and computers and Internet access are available where courses are taught. Transition from paper to electronic tests and quizzes within the WEMT program has been especially beneficial. The paper usage been reduced by 12,500 pieces of paper per year. Instructors also have more flexibility to review exams and identify patterns in performance using item analysis features within the online platform. With this new ability, instructors can eliminate questions or choose to focus more time on certain subject material.

WMI has reassessed their paper usage for every course type. In all, this is expected to save nearly 60,000 pieces of paper annually, the equivalent of a twenty-foot tall stack of paper! This paper reduction movement is another exciting step in the school’s sustainability journey.

Permalink | Posted by Caitlin Camilliere on Feb 19, 2014 in the following categories: Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Wilderness Medicine Institute

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