The Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards and Appalachian Trail Conservancy in conjunction with the Forest Service, just completed the annual Wilderness Skills Institute.  This gathering of field crews, staff, and volunteers is an amazing source of expertise for field wilderness skill building.  Learn more...

The 7th annual Wilderness Skills Institute took place May 22-June 1, 2017 outside of Brevard, NC at the Cradle of Forestry, the first Forestry School in the nation. The Wilderness Skills Institute is a prime example of collaborative partnership between the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, United States Forest Service and the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards focused on providing education and skills to staff, partners and volunteers. The planning team is made up of representatives from each of the organizations and, while each has their own independent mission, the planning team works to identify where shared vision and needs are held and provide opportunities for training in those areas. There were 8, week-long courses offered at WSI this year to fulfill the training and education needs for all involved.

At 7:45am each morning, a room in the Cradle of Forestry fills with upwards of 75 people, gathering to kick off a day immersed in Wilderness Stewardship. Uniforms from various agencies and organizations are visible and most everyone has a cup of coffee steaming on the table in front of them. Although courses take place in different locations, this room is a reminder, as we gear up at the beginning and wind down at the end of each day, that there is a strong, vibrant community in support of our protected public lands present. After basic safety is covered, instructors direct their students to their training site and a full day of skills training and discussions begins. Wilderness Skills Institute does not end at 5:30pm each day though. There are evening events focused on comradery, a barbecue held by the local chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of America for all WSI attendees, or a film that leads to in depth discussions on diversity and accessibility. After that, there are the late-night brainstorms that organically occur on tailgates in the camping area.

The variations in courses offered each year, bring people back Spring after Spring. Courses range from hands on field work, to wilderness management implementation, to public education. Instructors will hail from different organizations and yet come together to run a cohesive, multi-faceted course tailored to the needs of the participating organizations and the wilderness areas in the region. The first week of the Wilderness Skills Institute was filled with Crosscut saw and Wilderness First Aid certification, Introduction to Wilderness Stewardship, a Leave No Trace Master Educator certification and Introduction to Stonework with the Jolly Rovers. The second week consisted of Trail Design and Layout, Wilderness 501: Stewardship Performance, Tool Reconditioning and an Introduction to Trail Building and Maintenance. To maintain and build our wilderness community, the course offerings encompass stewards of all levels to ensure they feel welcomed and prepared for what is ahead.

The beauty of the Wilderness Skills Institute is in the partnerships and the people. From seasonal staff and volunteers, to Leadership from Region 8 and the USFS Washington office, everybody is engaged and committed to the collaborative efforts of the Institute. Ansel Adams said, “we who are gathered here may represent a particular elite, not of money and power, but of concern for the earth for the earth’s sake.” It seems at the end of the two weeks, it is only the uniforms that allow us to differentiate between the organizations and volunteers that attend. Our efforts have reunited us and we are energized for the season to come.

For more information, contact Katie Currier, at [email protected].