Reprinted from The Leader, Summer 2000, Vol. 16, No. 3, NOLS 35th Anniversary Insert
"The primary purpose of the school is to develop qualified outdoor leaders. A secondary objective . . . is to provide real adventure and to develop leaders who can help others experience it safely."
March 23, 1965
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is founded in Lander, Wyoming. It first operated out a building in Sinks Canyon which is now the Sinks Canyon State Park Headquarters.
June 8, 1965
Food and equipment for the first NOLS course are issued from the Sinks Canyon headquarters. The all-male enrollment for the first summer, which consisted of three courses, was approximately 100 students.
During the first five years, courses could consist of up to 100 students under the leadership of one course leader, usually Paul Petzoldt. The students divided into patrols of a dozen or so students under the direction of a patrol leader and an instructor. These groups traveled separately, rejoining for re-rations. This is where the terms course leader and patrol leader orginated.
Backpacks were the three bag system, which were zip bags lashed to a JanSport frame. No cotton was allowed at all on any course. Wool pants were standard issue, along with the customized double sweater.
The first women were enrolled on NOLS courses. College credit was available for students.
Thelma Young hired as a seamstress to make equipment and clothing that was not available commercially, tents,wind shirts,dacron booties etc... Thelma was the longest tenured employee for NOLS. She worked until her death in the fall of 1999. One of her equipment tricks in the early days was to take two sweaters and make them into one long sweater that extended to the knees for added warmth (double sweater).
The first NOLS course for boys 13-15 years old, the primary course, later called adventure course.
Paul Petzoldt founded Outdoor Leadership Supply to design and manufacture equipment that was unavailable to purchase for NOLS courses. This company was later called Paul Petzoldt Wilderness Equipment (PPWE) and also included a store and mail order department.
Michael Wadleigh, Charles Grosbeck and Fred Underhill, filmed an entire 30-day course. The film was shown on the Alco Hour and titled "Thirty Days to Survival." Michael and Fred went on to film Woodstock after completion of the NOLS film.
January 20, 1970
Alcoa Hour presented of "Thirty Days to Survival", an hour-long television show. This boosted NOLS enrollment.
Fremont Lumberyard on Lincoln Street was purchased for the outfitting of students.
Course tuition increased from $400 to $450.
NOLS East opens near Washington, Connecticut. Skills taught at NOLS East included canoeing, rock climbing, ecology, firearms instruction, preparation of small fowl and animals, use of chain saws, snow shoeing, winter travel and camping, cross-country skiing, and igloo and snow cave-building.
First NOLS instructor's course.
NOLS field-tested Dacron 88. Thelma Yong designs a prototype sleeping bags using Dacron 88 instead of down.
Winter 1970 - 1971
The NOLS Mexico Branch in Baja California is started by Tap Tapley near Bahia de los Angeles.
The first issue of the NOLS newsletter, Alumnus, is printed.
March 13, 1971
The first course begins at the current NOLS Mexico headquarters at Coyote Bay.
June 7, 1971
NOLS Tennessee opens with Haven Holsapple and R. Allen Robinson. The students learn canoeing, fishing, camping, cooking with the major focus on caving, cave biology and ecology.
NOLS Alaska started in Anchorage, by Tom and Dorothy Warren. Rob & Martha Hellyer and Bill Scott scouted the area.
NOLS Washington branch opens with the first North Cascades mountaineering course. Dave Polito was the first director. The branch is now called the Pacific Northwest branch.
The administrative offices were moved to 258 Main from Sinks Canyon location after the purchase of the Nicholas Building in Lander
Scab Creek (Three Peaks Ranch) near Boulder, Wyoming is purchased.
NOLS East closes.
September 2, 1972
NOLS Tennessee closes.
May 24, 1973
The Noble Hotel is purchased.
First edition of the NOLS Cookery; edited by Nancy Pallister, with illustrations by Beverly Holsapple is published. This was the first NOLS publication for public distribution.
The Wilderness Handbook; written by Paul Petzodlt is published. This was the first NOLS publication for national distribution.
June 15 - August 20, 1974
The first course in Kenya. Paul Petzoldt, Mike & Jill Williams scouted out areas both in Mozambique and Kenya in 1973.
September 1 - December 21, 1974
The first NOLS semester course is conducted in the Wind River Mountains.
The first NOLS Alaska semester course is held.
June 23 - July 14, 1975
The first outdoor educator's course is held in the Wind River Mountains.
July 14, 1975
Petzoldt is removed as executive director and named senior advisor.
NOLS Instructor's Association (NIA) formed in response to Paul's departure from NOLS.
Jon Hamren steps in as NOLS executive director temporarily.
December 4, 1975
Peter Simer is named executive director of NOLS.
First NOLS Kenya semester course is run.
The Washington branch headquarters moves from Bellevue to Sedro Woolley.
Mission Statement: The mission of the National Outdoor Leadership School is to be the best source and teacher of wilderness skills, and leadership which protects the user and the environment.
January 4, 1981
First NOLS Wilderness First Responder course is taught.
The NOLS Wilderness Guide is published.
May 10, 1983
Peter Simer resigns as the executive director.
August 13, 1983
The present Alaska headquarters at Palmer is dedicated.
March 1, 1984
Jim Ratz is named executive director.
First Mexico semester course.
Instructor Development Fund is established to help instructors to continue developing their skills and outdoor skills.
First whitewater section on a semester course at the Wyoming branch.
First NOLS alumni reunions are held in five United States cities.
Computers are installed in the NOLS international administrative offices at the Noble Hotel in Lander.
January 7 - 24, 1987
The first winter outdoor educator's course.
Soft Paths, by Bruce Hampton and David Cole, is published by NOLS.
March 24, 1989
Exxon "Valdez" oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The sullying of one of NOLS's most pristine classrooms reinforces the NOLS commitment for taking a leadership role in preserving quality wild lands.
May 20, 1989
The new Wyoming branch is dedicated. Now the Rocky Mountain branch.
January 12 - April 1, 1990
The first Patagonia semester operates in Chile. This is the first NOLS branch formed since the 1974 founding of the Kenya Branch.
NOLS runs its first Leave No Trace (LNT) course. The Outreach Department now runs more than 15 LNT Masters courses each year, has more than 1,000 masters and has written 16 different skills and ethics booklets for varying environments.
The Southwest facility in Tucson that had been operating as a base of the Rocky Mountain branch, becomes the Southwest branch.
A warehouse is rented and the whitewater program moves to Vernal, Utah. It is now operated as the Utah base.
The current Southwest branch facility is purchased. Planning and remodeling are done on the facility with completion in the spring of 1994.
The Idaho base in Driggs purchased.
The Western Canada Branch starts operating out of Smithers, B.C., running course in British Columbia and Yukon Territory. Now the Yukon branch.
Jim Ratz resigns as executive director. John Gans replaces him.
Mission Statement: The National Outdoor Leadership School's mission is to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve the people and the environment.
The new Utah facility is completed.
The purchase of the property that the Kenya branch has leased is completed. The Kenya branch name is now to better reflect its areas of operations.
Paul Petzolt 90th Birthday Celebration takes place at Grand Targhee.
The Idaho Base becomes the Teton Valley branch. This is the newest branch at NOLS.
The purchase of trhe Wilderness Medicine Institute.
NOLS runs more than 250 student courses. This is in addition to LNT courses, outreach programs and the Professional Training Institute. To date there are more than 50,000 NOLS graduates.