Dropping Into The Wild: Cottonwood Institute Teams Up With Colorado Youth For A Change

August 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Notes From The Field

Meet A TreeThe Cottonwood Institute had an amazing opportunity to work with Colorado Youth for a Change (CYC) during a four day program. Led by Cottonwood Institute instructors Deb and Jessi, the program began with two day hikes and culminated in an overnight backpacking trip at White Ranch Open Space Park outside of Golden, Colorado.  Colorado Youth for a Change is a nonprofit in Denver that works collaboratively with school districts throughout the state to provide outreach and recovery services for high school dropouts.  CYC reengages hundreds of young people who have dropped out of high school and provides support for up to a year after students have re-enrolled in high school.

In early August the Cottonwood Institute provided an enrichment program for CYC students titled “The Nature of Music and Survival.”  Students expressed the following reasons for wanting to participate in this program:  to have fun, build community, meet new friends and “clear their head” before classes began.  Eight high school students accompanied by two CYC staff enjoyed connecting to the natural world, developing their leadership and communication skills, community activities, games and introductions to survival skills all while exploring the natural world just minutes from downtown Denver.  Among the highlights of the day trips and camping trip were building traps, creating survival shelters, making friction fires, whittling, cooking dinner over an open fire, challenging their minds, pushing their bodies, and connecting with each other and the natural world. Literally hours were spent White Ranchimmersed in the natural world as they explored, camped and discovered all kinds of things including finding themselves sitting alone in silence.  One student, Rebbecka noticed, “[The course] taught me to be a little more patient with life. Everything takes time to grow and evolve into something. Just like the little bushes that turn into enormous pine trees.” These inspiring young adults shared some great laughs and wonderful conversations. Even the CYC staff gained new insight from the program. Amy, the CYC Youth Leadership Coordinator reflected, “What an awesome experience! I really hope to continue a CYC-Cottonwood partnership. I am amazed by the adaptability and emphasis on youths’ unique interests and personalities. What an incredible sense of community in a short period of time. You really helped each of our youth feel like they belong. Thank you!”

Bow DrillThe last day was capped off by a thunderstorm – a reminder that a learning adventure is around every corner.  “It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before.”  Hats off to CYC students for going to places that they had never been before!

Written by Deb Kulcsar, edited by Katie Craig

Thanks to CYC, Cottonwood Institute donors and supporters, and everyone who helped make this memorable journey possible!

View more photos of “The Nature of Music and Survival” by clicking here!

Sun + Salamanders + Survival = One Awesome Family Survival Course!

September 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Notes From The Field

As the salamanders relaxed in the stillness of the early morning waters, and the plants soaked up the first rays of the morning sun, off in the distance there was a faint, yet distinct sound of children’s laughter and the crunch of twigs underfoot.  Cottonwood Institute’s survival course was underway once again at Taylor Mountain.

Every year, Cottonwood Institute donates a one-day survival course to be auctioned off at our annual fundraising event, The Base Camp Bash. The brave families who made a bid on this action-packed course got what they expected and more.  Throughout the day, they participated in a shelter building competition, learned about edible and medicinal plants, practiced knife and fire skills,  played exciting games and activities, and the kids even created their own fishing poles!

While the day was humming with activity, one of the best moments was simply the stories each person had to share.  Relaxing in, and connecting to nature brings out the story-teller and listener in each of us.  From shelters to sit spots to stories – these activities, coupled with a beautiful warm summer day, made an unforgettable adventure for not only the families involved, but also the instructors.

“My whole family enjoyed this course. The way Ford made fire out of sticks so fast – amazing! Clark is very knowledgeable about the outdoors and knows a lot about plants and animals. Both instructors worked well with the kids and adults. After taking this course, I am more aware of how to build a shelter and about what I might need to do if alone and lost in the outdoors.” (participant, Christine Frank)

Click here for a photo slideshow to check out the adventurous day!

To schedule your customized survival course, click here for more information.


“Sit and Listen” – Operation: Military Kids Overnight Teaches More Than Just Survival

This summer, the Cottonwood Institute and Operation: Military Kids teamed up for the Operation Military Kids Family Survival Skills Overnight.  In July, a team of students, accompanied by a number of parents, ventured up into Colorado Lions Camp near Woodland Park, Colorado for a weekend of outdoor exploration and fun.

This trip equipped its participants with good, practical knowledge about surviving in the wilderness, and also gave everyone an opportunity to get to know each other in an environment that facilitated a sense of community and teamwork.  Surviving in the outdoors alone was a new and enriching experience for most of the students and their parents.   Some people seemed a little hesitant at first, but it wasn’t long before the group’s avid interest and enthusiasm for the outdoors became apparent, as well as their remarkable ability to connect and relate to one another from day one, despite having never met before.

Students, instructors, and parents alike focused their time and energy on learning new survival skills and discussing how to respect the land they were staying on.  Course participants learned how to make one-match fires, and even got to try their hand at using bow drills.  They also learned how to build debris shelters, an activity that some students found to be so enjoyable, they wanted to try constructing shelters in their own backyards.

For some, one of the best parts of the trip was simply having an opportunity to be alone in the wilderness.  Finding sit spots, a reflective exercise where each participant finds a place to sit in the woods where they can be alone with the stillness of their surroundings, became an activity of special importance for many of the students.  “My rose was the sit moments—just being able to sit and listen,” said TJ, one of the students who attended the course.

For others the most valuable aspect of the trip was being able to get to know other people.  At the end of the weekend, one participant took time during their closing circle to mention all of the “roses,” or strengths, she had observed in each person attending the course.  “Her words were a great example of how well this group got along, and they also showed how you can learn a lot from other people,” said Madeline Bachner, an instructor on the course.

“We so appreciated the opportunity to go out on a survival adventure sponsored by the Cottonwood Institute,” said Channon, a course participant, in an e-mail to the Cottonwood Institute.  “Your founder and donors should be very pleased with how your organization is helping to nurture a love of the outdoors and the confidence to enjoy it as only a true camping experience can provide.  My husband, who is deployed to Afghanistan, also wants me to pass on his gratitude for getting his girls up to the Colorado mountains this summer.  It’s non-profit groups like yours that take up the slack when our troops are off serving and away from family.”

To view pictures from the course, click here.

Operation Military Kids Course Ignites Passion For The Outdoors

The local fire ban didn’t stop this crew of weekend wilderness warriors from igniting a passion for the outdoors. Cottonwood Institute instructors, Darren Silver, Jason Lawrence, and Aleyna Porreca delivered an action-packed course for children and parents of military families through a collaboration with Operation Military Kids and Colorado Lions Camp.

A fine mix of fun and skills set the platinum standard for this course as we filled our days with survival priorities, shelter-building, stalking, sit-spotting,  service, stewardship, and some tasty grub, including a rare treat of fresh venison!

“I think it was a huge success and should be offered again for military kids. I also asked all the kids what they thought and they all loved it,” commented an Operation Military Kids chaperone who joined us for the first ever OMK Essential Survival Skills course. “I wish it was longer,” said 10 year-old Little John accompanied by military dad, Big John. “Do you offer this for adults?” questioned two enthusiastic parents…

While we quoted General George C. Marshall before dinner Saturday evening: “There’s no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit,” we’d like to thank all of the generous sponsors and courageous participants for making tracks with us! Specifically, we would like to thank Operation Military Kids, Colorado Lions Camp, The Kenneth King Foundation, Canvas and Cocktails, and the overwhelming support we received from our donors who made this project possible.

To check out a slide show of the course, Click Here.

This article was written by Jason Lawrence and edited by Ford Church.

2nd Quarter New Vista Community Adventure Program (CAP): Overnight!

November 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Program News

From November 7-8, we headed out for the first weekend overnight. The campsite was Camp Cheley, near Allenspark, which offered a beautiful pine forest with a stream running by. The weather was mostly sunny, although the cool fall air warned us of winter, and the days felt shorter than ever. We still managed to fit in plenty of games and learn new skills.

We practiced some camping basics such as selecting campsites, setting up a bear hang, digging a sump hole, and preparing a fire. Also, we learned important wilderness survival strategies such as building shelter, fire-making techniques, and developing awareness in the outdoors. Some of these skills were put to the test in a fierce competition to see who could build the most effective survival shelter. While these shelters are not as easily constructed as they appear, they would make the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Things really got heated up when we learned about different methods of making fire. Everyone successfully made 1-match fires (sometimes using a couple extra matches) and cotton-ball fires.A few people were even able to use bow-drill kits to make fire by friction: a task that requires tremendous determination, perfect form, and sometimes a little luck. Well done!

Debris Hut Frame

Debris Hut Frame

Testing the Debris Hut...

Testing the Debris Hut...

We were lucky enough to have student-teacher / CAP veteran Aleyna Porecca along for her 7th CAP overnight to help everyone out with building fires, debris huts, and camp logistics. Michael Koehler, an intervention intern at New Vista, also came along for the ride. Right now Michael is studying wilderness therapy at Naropa, and he has been a tremendous asset on the last two CAP overnights. Thanks for the help you guys! These trips certainly would not be the same without you.

1-match fire

1-match fire

Most of the seniors in the group had just finished lengthy standardized testing and arrived late Saturday afternoon. Although they were weary, they soon forgot their stress and joined the festivities. The tone of the trip was lighthearted and full of laughter. New friendships were forged, stories were told, and the group transitioned into a community. All of these things were essential for tackling the environmental action project ahead.

The CAP overnights help to remind us what we are trying to protect, and why. CAP is a completely unique experience because students dictate their own education. They find an environmental issue they are passionate about, and then actively form resolutions to make the world into a better place. Often times, this task is daunting. It is an easy thing to shrug our shoulders and say that there is nothing we can do for the environment, but it takes hard work and courage to take a stand. The students of CAP are the future leaders of our community. The decisions they make will span beyond our lifetime and will affect the future generations. They are the Johnny Appleseeds of our time, planting hope for those that come after them.

The next trip will be December 7-8. Stay tuned!

Participants Thrive During Cottonwood Institute Survival Courses

July 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Notes From The Field

As I’m sure most of you are well aware, we had some crazy weather in June. Who ever heard of so much rain in Colorado, especially during the summer?! With such bizarre weather conditions, there is no telling when a storm is going to hit. If you were caught in the mountains unexpectedly overnight, would you have what it takes to survive?

During the month of June, the Cottonwood Institute hosted two Essential Survival Skills Overnights for adults. Not scared off by the rain, two groups of adventurous adults headed into the woods to learn what it takes to survive in the  wild. The two day trips were action packed. The campers learned nature awareness skills, minimum impact camping techniques, survival priorities, and edible plants. After hiking into base camp, the group spent most of the first day busting their butts to build survival shelters. One the second trip they even got rained on right in the middle of construction. But, April Pishna, a participant, Apprentice Instructor, and Cottonwood Institute Administrative Coordinator reports, “what was amazing was that our shelters stayed dry!” Which is a good thing because every camper got to spend the night in their shelter.

The next day, the group got down and dirty with the business of fire making. Both primitive and modern methods were covered but the both groups agreed that the friction fire was a highlight of the trip. A friction fire is your classic “rubbing two sticks together” way of making fire, but it is a lot more involved then most people know. Michael Anderson, a participant on the first overnight, successfully busted a coal in no more than 10 minutes! This is probably the fastest first time friction fire on record! At the end of the day, the groups got to participate in a mini service project to give back to the land before heading home to showers and warm beds.

Aside from the friction fire, Michael’s favorite part of the trip is what he referred to as the “ADD hike.” The hike into base camp was so packed with things to see and learn that instructors Ford, and Clark were stopping every few minutes to show the group a new edible plant or a survival tip. In terms of what the participants had to say about their course, Michael says, “I loved it! I had a wonderful time and would recommend it to anyone.” Since the overnight Michael has been munching on edible plants in his yard, making his own friction fire set, and planning a 6-week long trip through 4 nation parks.

April had a similarly good experience. In addition to her many titles at the Cottonwood Institute, she was also the unofficial chef of the trip. She’ll have you know that, “our pita pizzas and gourmet bagel sandwiches were the hit of the trip. No dried out boring food for us!” Here is what April had to say about the overnight: “… although uncomfortable and a little chilly, having slept in something made by my own two hands gave me quite the thrill, knowing that I could survive outdoors if needed, plus bragging rights to my husband and friends, made it all worthwhile! We had a great time!  Clark was a great instructor, very knowledgeable and patient, and a sense of humor that cracked you up!  New friendships were forged, new skills were taught, and lessons that could be applied to not only the wilderness but to everyday life, were learned!”

  • To view pictures of the June 20-21, 2009 Essential Survival Skills Overnight, Click Here.
  • To view pictures of the June 6-7, 2009 Essential Survival Skills Overnight, Click Here.