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That Camp Connection

By Lindsay Nohl, NOLS alumni Intern

Have you ever wondered where NOLS instructors come from? The school is finding that more and more instructors started their careers in outdoor education going to summer camps. Some started as campers, while others jumped right in as counselors. Attending summer camp, says NOLS instructor and Annual Fund Manager Kacy White, is a great way to get submerged in the outdoors at an early age. Over the years, NOLS and various summer camps around the country have formed cyclical relationships, with many people jumping from one to the other and back again.

The transition from camper to camp counselor has become commonplace among many outdoor enthusiasts. But another budding progression is that of camper or counselor to NOLS student or instructor, and then a return as a leader in the camping community.

There are many people at NOLS who have followed this progression, including White, who spent five summers working as a counselor for Camp Wawenock in Maine. At camp, she was able to develop her teaching skills in an unconventional classroom. From there, she was looking for a place where she could make an impact on people, in an environment similar to her eight-week overnight camp. When White met former NOLS instructors Quincy and Mark VanWinkle, directors of Camp Wohelo in Maine, the VanWinkles quickly pointed her to NOLS, suggesting that she take a semester course.

“A NOLS course is not only fun and physically challenging, but it is a great way to confirm that the outdoors is the classroom for you,” says Quincy VanWinkle.
White completed a Fall Semester in the Rockies and later went on to become a NOLS instructor. Many of her students in the past few years have asked advice on how to become an outdoor educator and a NOLS instructor. She has recommended several of them back to the VanWinkle’s camp, where there is a strong NOLS connection.

On the flip side of the coin, former NOLS instructor Laura Ordway is now the Assistant Director of Camp Winona in Maine. She has urged many of her counselors to take a NOLS course before the summer season begins and is not surprised by the amount of confidence and leadership ability they bring back with them to camp.

It is apparent from these cases that a genuine tie exists between the NOLS world and the camping community. As more young people spend their summers at camp, and as more campers look to further their wilderness skills, both groups will benefit from having strong leaders in the backcountry.


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