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The Leader

Gathering at Base Camp Part 1

Part 1 | Part 2

By Susan Brame

Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2003, Vol. 18, No. 2



Through nearly four decades of steady growth and considerable change, much remains constant at NOLS. The student experience — expedition-based wilderness education — is still at the heart of every NOLS program. And the base of international operations is still Lander, Wyo. — a small western town on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains, selected by NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt in 1965. From Lander, the school serves all NOLS programs worldwide.

Ten years ago, it was apparent that NOLS was rapidly outgrowing its headquarters space in Lander. As discussions ensued about how to address the school’s needs, debates waxed philosophical. Every conceivable option was on the table, and most viable options had an ardent champion. Should the school move its headquarters to a metropolitan area? NOLS staff and volunteers travel widely among the different NOLS campuses. If the headquarters remain in Wyoming, should we scrap the downtown Lander location and build a campus nearer a wilderness setting that some said would better reflect our wilderness values?

After a wide-ranging, extended discussion, the NOLS Board of Trustees voted unanimously to remain in downtown Lander. In January 2002, the school launched the International Base Camp Initiative to raise $15 million to fund the expansion and update of its Lander facilities.

Staying True to the Mission

“Not only is this initiative imperative to our continued operational excellence,” observes NOLS Executive Director John Gans, “but it is clearly a reflection of NOLS’ values. This plan is the most environmentally responsible. We are building in a simple, sustainable fashion, and more importantly, we are not contributing to sprawling development. By renovating the Noble Hotel, we’re recycling a building that has significant historic value, both for NOLS and for the town of Lander. By maintaining ownership, NOLS remains connected to that part of our history.

“We use the word community a lot at NOLS,” continues Gans. “We really are a worldwide community — made up of our graduates, parents, staff, volunteers and other friends of the school — but each NOLS location has its own local community as well. This initiative demonstrates our commitment to Lander.”

Others in Lander concur with John’s view. “I grew up in Lander,” says Lander Mayor Mick Wolfe. “I left home in the sixties to serve four years in the Navy. When I came back to Lander in 1967 after completing two Vietnam tours, NOLS was pretty new here and really not all that welcome. We weren’t sure we wanted all those hippies around. Lots of us were skeptical, and we were protective of ‘our mountains’.

“Now I can say with conviction that NOLS is the best thing that ever happened to Lander,” continues Wolfe, “and not just job-wise either, but people-wise. Over the years, NOLS has brought new people, new ideas and new friends to Lander. Many of them have stayed and put down roots here. Of course, economically NOLS is the best thing we have going. The school is our largest non-government employer, and all the students coming through town contribute significantly to our downtown businesses.”

The Plan for a New Base Camp

NOLS is building for the future. The NOLS International Base Camp Initiative is a volunteer-driven effort, with leadership from the Board of Trustees and a steering committee. Base Camp plans include renovation of the historic Noble Hotel and construction of two new buildings—an international headquarters and a centrally located education center.

The headquarters building is complete and consolidates all international headquarters departments, previously divided among three disparate Lander locations. It also houses the Wilderness Medicine Institute and NOLS Professional Training. Built simply of durable materials, the headquarters has a projected 100-year lifespan. However, NOLS’ telecommunications and operational needs are anything but simple, and the new building uniquely addresses those demands.

  Noble Hotel
The school will remodel the historic Noble Hotel, which was built in 1917 as a luxurious stopover for travelers en route to Yellowstone National Park. There are two key elements to the renovation. The first is upgrading the building to current building and fire codes; the second is to improve the space for students and instructors. In remodeling the first floor, offices will give way to a student lounge, classrooms and an expanded library. Remodeling of the exterior façade, including the Main Street entrance and the lobby area, will restore historic design elements to the building.

Finally, NOLS will construct a centrally located education center. This portion of the project will provide the nexus that ties together all the campus buildings with a blend of classroom, meeting and green space. The new classroom space is essential for the school’s expanded educational offerings, such as those of the Wilderness Medicine Institute and NOLS Professional Training.

Part 1 | Part 2


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