What We Do
My seven year-old daughter attended the Wilderness Skills Camp and was absolutely thrilled with her experience. She was so excited to tell me about the adventures of each day, and always looked forward to returning. Under the expert guidance of Brian and Toni, I watched my daughter become more confident and connected to the world around her. It feels very important to me as a parent to expose my children to the slower pace of nature, to compensate for the very structured, fast-paced world we live in today.
Brian and Toni's depth of experience and commitment to building each child's relationship to the natural world is a rare and precious gift. I highly recommend this camp!
Laura McCormick, Ph.D.
I do not know what you do but you make happy kids.
Brian makes everything look so easy, he makes me believe that I can do these things if I just keep working at it.
I have never been able to work at a single activity as long as I did with Brian today, at school, at other camps, even at home, I have to stop before I am finished. This is so cool.
I was scared to do the rappel off the cliff, it was no big deal, Toni told me I did not have to do it, and could go play, but when I saw the other kids do it I wanted to try it, I was still scared, but it became fun the farther I went and as soon as I was down I wanted to do it again.
Thank you both for all you have given and taught me this summer. these past mouths at camp have been some of the most fun and transformational of my life.
What you were doing at Devil's Gulch Ranch was cool but what you are doing now with Wilderness Skills Camps is awesome count the boys in whatever you do. Anytime the boys are out of school I want them with you.
What you have done with these kids this week they will never forget. I wish I could have had your mentorship when I was 12 learning what these kids learn.
She is so excited she will not stop talking about what she was doing with you, please count us in with anything you do.
Brian and Toni are the grandparents I wish my kids had. Thank You.
Brian and Toni treat my son like he is not a kid but a person. He stands taller at the end of the week.
I eat when I am hungry, not by what the clock says, we can stay on task doing what we're doing until we are done, everything is so real.
The day goes by so fast, the week goes by so fast I wish I never had to go home.
All the staff are so passionate about what they do it just sucks the kids in.
My kids come home, dirty, talking about their day, exhausted, and laughing thank you.
Each week is different but the same. Everything you do is so cool.
Brian told me that it was not like any other camp, what an understatement, what he does with the kids truly gets them deeply connected to nature.
I get it, you guys spend your day doing really cool stuff and let the kids hang out with you learning from what your doing.
For the past 2 days all the kids have been talking about is all the cool things they are doing and learning.
The kids get in the car after school or soccer and never tell me about their day, but the kids are on such a high after a day or a week with you, animated telling me all the cool stuff they are doing and learning.
Wilderness Skills Institute's Vision:
All people benefit from developing authentic connections between themselves and the earth, wind, fire, water, plants, animals, our food, our ancestral past and future generations.
True growth happens from people being taken past their comfort zone in an environment that is rich in nature, culture, fun, music, and celebration.
That all people grow from unstructured play and exploration, rites of passage, laughter, song, and performing acts of stewardship.
Services For Parents:
Services For Adults
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Vanessa Lemaire-Workman (Subject Area Specialist - Cinematography)
Vanessa Lemaire-Workman is a French conservation scientist and filmmaker has produced films and documentaries for conservation research institutes & environmental non-profits nation-wide and have been affiliated with the United Nations. One of Vanessa's passions is to work with teenagers. Vanessa excels in sharing her discoveries through the lens of a camera but she also enables others to experience camera work and nature through that lens. If your teenager is a technical geek or simply just loves recording natural history videos, the camera might be a way for him/her to get a step closer to experiencing the woods and the wildlife. The curriculum this summer, Vanessa will be teaching technical and aesthetic skills for digital photography and cinematography as well as scriptwriting techniques to help the teens forge exciting visual stories around nature.
Liz Smith-Oettinger (Subject Area Specialist - Falconry, Rites of Passage)
Liz is a Wildlife Rehabilitator, General Falconer and Bird of Prey educator. In 1988 her passion for nature and self understanding led her into the first of many four day wilderness solo fasting times. These times of deep immersion into nature brought forth the knowing of the importance of helping others to do the same, and in 2000 she completed her training as a Wilderness Vision Quest guide through The School of Lost Borders. She is also trained in Circle Leadership, is a Council Facilitator, and Council Guide Trainer. Liz holds a BA in Liberal Arts from California Institute of Integral Studies with an emphasis in Deep Ecology and Eco Psychology. She is currently serving on the Board of Directors and participates in outreach, fundraising and education for the California Foundation for Birds of Prey, 501c3. She is an active member and served on the education committee for the California Hawking Club, 501c3. Liz is passionate about nature, animals and helping to reverse Nature Deficit Disorder in children, teens and adults.
Marten Benatar (Subject Area Specialist - Falconry, Music)
Marten brings his expertise to WSI and CRWN with his deep love and innate ability to communicate with birds of prey. A dedicated instructor and sponsor for apprentice falconers, Marten is passionate about passing on falconry as an art. Marten was awarded the coveted Apprentice of the Year Award in 2005 by The California Hawking Club (CHC) and has been a Board Director since 2008 with active roles as chairperson for a CHC field meet, editor and publisher of the CHC newsletter, annual journal and raptor education committee. Marten enjoyed 25 years as a professional musician and entertainer traveling the world. His family are longtime successful walnut and peach farmers in Rio Oso California. Marten spent most of his youth outdoors camping, hunting, fishing and enjoying the wonders of nature and abundant wildlife of Northern California.
Dr. Randy Eaton (Subject Area Specialist - Zoology, Rites of Passage)
For over 20 years, Dr. Randy Eaton studied orca whales in the Pacific Northwest. He and his research volunteers actually befriended wild orcas. His video, Orca: The Sacred Whale and his book, The Orca Project~ A Meeting of Nations, examine the unique behavior of orcas and their exceptional relationship with humans across time and space.
Dr. Eaton's communications have appeared everywhere from Science and Evolution to Sports Illustrated and Utne Reader. He has been interviewed in Sports Illustrated, Saturday Review, Omni, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. He gave a speech on ecological problems in the U.S. that was broadcast by CBS TV National News, PBS Nova interviewed him about endangered species, NPR interviewed him about the Asiaticlion, and BBC Worldwide Radio News interviewed him about youth outdoors.
Randall holds an international reputation in animal behavior, ecology, human behavioral evolution, wildlife conservation, men's studies and zoo biology/philosophy. He also has made contribution to environmental ethics, history of science, philosophy, mythology, comparative religion, art history and indigenous wisdom.
Dr. Eaton has held faculty positions in zoology, psychology and humanities at the University of Washington, the University of Georgia, Florida Atlantic University, etc. Winner of two national book awards as well as numerous writing and film awards, Dr. Eaton earned a sacred pipe in the Cherokee tradition and teaches indigenous wisdom, He teaches A Course In Miracles.Dr. Eaton has received numerous awards and honors for his writings and productions, as well as endorsements for his lectures
Erik Hans Tarzan Thor Rasmussen (core staff)
Erik was born at a very early age and like many young naturalists had an interest in nature right from the start. Growing up he wandered the chaparral grasslands, oak savanna hills, redwood forests and sandy ocean beaches of California. At the age of seven he was introduced to nature awareness and primitive skills by the Riekes Center. There he learned many skills of the bush such as tracking, bird, plant and animal identification, shelter making, flint knapping, archery and most everything else that encompasses primitive thrival. Erik is also a modestly good bones and harmonica player and Wilderness First Aid Certified. At his second Four Fires Rendezvous Erik was introduced to Brian King and has since assisted as a mentor at Wilderness Skills Institute. Now he continues his pursuit of outdoor educating at the University of Utah and through the Kamana Naturalist Training Program, of which he is half way through. (He also has a great sence of humor)
Lacy Rose (core staff)Lacy is passionate about reweaving the webs that connect us and our next generations to the wild outdoors. She loves birdwatching and animal tracking, primitive skills and backpacking. She is completing her second year of training as a nature awareness and cultural mentor at Regenerative Design Institute, where her love of children and playful wonder are being honed into tools and experiences she can bring to the field!
Madison Sparks (Core Staff)
Growing up in Nebraska made her appreciate wide open spaces and the subtleties in nature. She spent her summers camping with her family and going on biking expeditions with her little sister. Frequent trips to Alaska fueled her love for the outdoors. One of her first memories is standing under a towering Sitka Spruce while her uncle shook snow down on her. After graduating high school she spent a year mushing, hiking, studying and collecting indigenous plants, and boating through South Central Alaska. Leading the children at the preschool where she worked on adventures through the old growth forest in Kenai reinforced her love of watching children develop a strong, personal, confident relationship with nature. She is thrilled to be able to share her reverence of the Earth with the next generation of naturalists.
Tina Arthur (Mentor in Training)
Tina was brought up in the Arthur family with four other sisters in the Scotts Valley region of California. Her parents named her Tina in addition to the rest of the T girls, the name they are known by in our small town since all five of us start with a T. She is the second youngest with her age at seventeen. Her sisters grew up to love horses, and all four of them still ride today. As for her, she prefers more exciting activities which include; dirt bike riding, soccer, track and field, archery, Civil Air Patrol, being a Red Cross volunteer, training for her pilots license, serving her church, and of course WSI. She first found out about WSI a year ago and fell in love ever since. Life can be so chaotic at times between activities and school, but WSI allows her to take a step back, appreciate the life she has been given and experience nature in all its wonder. Toni and Wog have granted her the privilege of becoming a Mentor in Training, and maybe one day a mentor for the WSI and for her community. Her passion is serving others, whether through community service or just making someone smile. Her hope is that she can take the experience from WSI and apply it to her next chapter in life when she is, hopefully, accepted to the Air Force Academy in 2014. Her next big step to serve her community and country.
Brady Volkman (Mentor in Training)
Brady lives in Felton, California. He loves extreme sports such as Skate Boarding, Mountain Biking, Surfing, Parkour, and rock climbing. His dream is to become a professional athlete that tours the world doing Parkour. He is enrolled in Wilderness Skills Institute K-12 school and has given him the opportunity of being a Mentor in Training. He hopes to work on his skills and become a better mentor to little ones. He has been taking program with Wilderness Skills Institute for over a year and has learned so much from them. He has been mentoring the little ones in the K-12 school throughout the year as well as helping them with their skills that they use at camp. They might learn Archery, how to throw a Toma Hawk, Hunter-ed, rappelling, fire making, shelter building, fly tying (fly fishing flies), and hand-loading ammunition.
Brian King Education Director / Mentor
Brian asked me to write a few words about him having worked closely since 08. Brian has an impressive resume, the education behind him with a BA in industrial arts from Long Beach State, MS in agriculture science from Cal Poly Pomona, completed the Regenerative Design Nature Awareness at Regenerative Design Institute broadening his nature and permaculture skills as well as continuing his education. He has been spending much of his time learning what happens when we learn, how we learn and develop talent, what actually goes on in the brain, nerve bundles, nerve endings, and muscles.
He has k-12 teaching credentials in agricultural science, industrial arts and technology , and vocational education. Brian had a 25 year career in industry and education and a long list of skills and interests, of which I'm growing and learning from on a daily basis. But what is important is to see his passion about getting kids to connect to nature, to themselves, to their ancestors. He is stalwart that kids need room to grow and grow having undirected and unstructured free play, by finding their edges, their fears, the end of their skill set and pulling the kids past these in a safe way, in an environment full of celebration and culture.
He does not teach but mentors, believing that all learning is self-taught; he will model, answering questions by asking more questions, guiding them on a journey to learn what they are passionate about.
When you are around Brian you will not hear him say “kids be quite you need to learn what I have to say. “ No, you will hear a child say “Brian what are you doing?”
One day I saw him spin a coal to life the way I have seen him do it a hundred time before, he pulled some leaves from his pocket roll it into a ball the size of a robin’s egg and gently nudge a glowing speck into the nest and nurse the tiny ember into a warming camp fire. This is a wow for the kids, it grabs something primal in them. A boy asked him “what is that plant I saw you pull from your pocket?”
Brian did not give the child the name of the plant but reached into his pocket and gave the young man a sample saying, “it is really good for making a tiny coal get bigger” and then ask “Doesn’t it have a cool smell?” "What does it smell like?' “What do the leaves look like?” “There is a bit of stem how does it feel when you roll it between your fingers?” “How would you describe the color?”, “Have you ever seen anything like it as we have been hiking?”
“Hum” “Are you Sure?”
Later that day the boy was playing with the small plug of leaves rolling it, pulling it apart, rolling it back up, smelling it and smelling his hands. Another boy walked up and said “That is the stuff King WOG makes the fire bundle with.”
“You know what it is”
“Nope but I know I have smelled it along the creek, I just can’t remember where.”
The boys ran off to explore.
The next day I heard the same kid yell “Hey WOG, I found the plant, check it out, what is it?” and gave Brian a foot long sample of the plant.
Brian was relentless, he responds with “Hum, where did you find it?”
“Way down the creek where the bobcat scratched the bay tree”
“Oh down at the creek, how tall was it?”
The boy put his hand level out in front of him.
Was it alone or did it have a family?”
“There are about a hundred you can see it from the trail”
“Hum, the next day I saw Brian on his belly looking at a field guide and heard the same kid say what I hear the kids say so often around him “What are you doing?
“Oh I am just looking up a plant I do not know. “ Brian handed the child the book and takes a small string off his belt and starts tying knots seemingly a favorite past time of his, as the boy thumbs through the plant field guide. Brian did not say a word, he seemed as though he has no interest in what the boy was doing.
In a bit I heard the kid say “Hey WOG, it is mugwart! Check this out, same shape leaves, same placement, it says it is found along creek beds, check out all the cool things it is good for, but it does not say anything about starting fires.” WOG smiled with only his eyes.
It took 3 days for the boy to get the answer, if Brian had just told him the name and its uses the journey would have ended in less than a minute, and most likely forgotten in 15, but after 3 days the boy will remember it a lifetime. That is Brian, sharing wow activities with the kids and letting learning happen along the way. Making connections happen for the kids that they do not even realize.
It has been quite the journey and we have designed the school about the best practices of the hot beds of talent worldwide.
Toni Lane Founder/ Operations Director/ Mentor
I have worked with Toni and have become friends with many of her friends. These people are either former clients, associates, or members of boards she resides on, all people that have worked with her over many years. What you will hear from them is Toni is a person of great integrity, work ethic, professionalism, a person that strives for perfection and in every detail. Toni’s work included being a manager at Novell running an international education team, an owner of a high powered real estate firm brokering opulent homes, she founded and owned a full service brokerage firm again handling executive housing in Danville. She held positions of responsibility and power on professional organizations and brought those organizations to a much higher level of service. Her former clients tell me she is a bull dog when it comes to negotiations always making sure that her clients are getting the best deal possible. I have seen firsthand how she handles deals that have exploded because of outside forces and pull all parties back together and within hours makes the deal happen. I have also seen her fire clients when the need arose.
When I met her in Indonesia on a scuba diving trip with mutual friends I was impressed with how professional she carried herself yet how warm and personable she was. When I met her mother I understood where Toni got it, her mother had been on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff when he was Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe. If you check military records it does show that she was assistant to General Eisenhower and she did in fact wear army boots.
Getting to know Toni’s family I have leaned that when her kids were kids she was the soccer mom, the team mom, the little league coach, the girl scout leader, the PTA treasurer, the room mother, she was what I call the uber mom. Looking at her scrap books and photo albums you will see all the neighbor kids in her yard happily playing with the slip and slide, her daughter catching a home run ball at Angels Stadium opening day of their new family section, kids in karate uniforms she made sure her kids were able to participate, but as Toni reflects on this time that is all the kids were doing was just being occupied doing busy stuff, nothing that was truly memorable . They were not passionate about anything they were doing Toni was not passionate about anything they were doing. It seemed like fun at the time but …..They were doing what was expected of good kids and good parents at the time.
In a layover in Singapore fall of 2008 Toni and I talked about the agriculture nature camp I founded and was running and she was impressed by my passion in getting kids connected to learning. Over the course of the next few months our friendship grew. She started coming out to Marin to have me teach her abseiling , go trail riding, and hanging out with us in the forest and creeks of the watershed. I watched her grow as she got reconnected to nature and push some of her edges. She had a lifetime fear of heights within a month she was going down 150’ shear walls in total darkness, she now helps teach rappelling with me. She had an aversion to firearms, and now is a volunteer teacher for California Department of Fish and Game Hunter Education, and is teaching firearms training at Wilderness Skills Institute.
She started volunteering working with the kids during a winter camp in 2008, she was wonderful with the kids, it made me feel very good to see how the kids took to her, chasing after her, them all laughing. A little girl was crossing a swollen creek slipped got muddy, wet and scared. this little girl was sobbing Toni took her in her arms and in a short time the child was having the time of life discovering lady bugs with Toni. She volunteered the next summer when she could and the staff and kids bonded to her. This past summer she put her business on hold and worked at the camp for regular camp wages interfacing with parents, running the horse program, helping me teach rappelling, and just holding space for the kids. She was awesome.
She sees that what we do here truly does make a difference in the children’s lives not just keeping them occupied with what everyone else seems to be doing. She believes that kids have so much structure at home, at school, throughout, their day to day lives. They have homework, testing, lessons, practices, games, deadlines…a lot is expected of them each and every day.
The free play in the forest, meadows, creeks open the kids up to discovery, wonder and amazement. The kids then start watching what Brian, Toni and the other mentors are doing, they start asking “What are you doing?” You can see them decompress, relax…turn on their imaginations, become inquisitive, that’s when they truly learn when they are ready to take in new situations, circumstances with wonder and amazement through a child’s eyes, their eyes. They can be themselves with no pressures no judgments all while having fun!
We are getting the kids connected to nature and to themselves all while building their self esteem in a positive fun environment of learning while being mentored. This will stay with them, a gift they have given themselves all while attending Wilderness Skills Camps. This is not what we do but who we are. We are living our life’s passion mentoring one child at a time.
Toni convinced me winter of 2010 that I needed to leave the program that I co-founded because it was taking a life of its own not following my vision and full of road blocks. So summer 2010 was my last summer at Devil's Gulch Ranch, she closed her brokerage and founded Wilderness Skills Institute LLC. With her management skills, her attention to details, her experience with customer service, her bull doggedness, her love for the kids she has made Wilderness Skills Institute a reality, and a success!
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Wilderness Skills Institute, LLC
Wilderness Skills Institute, LLC Reserves the right to change dates, times, locations, and pricing.