Gathering at Base Camp Part
Part 1 | Part
By Susan Brame
Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2003, Vol. 18,
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
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
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.
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