Where the wild skills are

  • By Alejandro Dominguez Herald Writer
  • Saturday, September 10, 2011 12:01am
  • Local NewsMonroe

MONROE — They called it a hunt, but it was a little like playing hide-and-seek, and the prey was each other.

Five students in a unique class got a five-minute head start along the Skykomish River, and they got as far away as possible. Four other students tracked them, looking for footprints and other clues.

Just for fun, they all carried water guns.

They were practicing tracking skills during a week-long survival class offered by Alderleaf Wilderness College, a for-profit school in Monroe started in 2006 that aims to teach outdoor skills, wilderness survival and ecology. The school is capitalizing on an increased interest in such training sparked by reality television programs such as “Man vs. Wild” and “Survivorman.” Classes range from bowmaking to tracking to finding edible and medicinal plants.

Most students are in their 20s and 30s, trying to get in touch with nature, director and co-founder Jason Knight said.

“Most of them are here out of curiosity,” Knight said. “They want to know what to do if there’s an emergency.”

People are hearing about the school through word of mouth and the Internet. In the five-day survival class held last month, the nine students learned to make their own shelter, to make tools out of rocks and traps out of plants.

The youngest student was 11-year-old Isaiah Lono, who took the $600-per-person course with his parents, Vanessa and Floyd Lono.

The family from Shoreline had taken several courses at the Monroe school. Isaiah enjoyed making his own spear the most.

“It was fun,” Isaiah said. “I am looking forward to using it for fishing.”

The family wanted to experience the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, having moved here from Hawaii in 2009.

“It was the best summer,” Vanessa Lono said. “It opened my eyes to another world. I feel enriched.”

Floyd Lono also enrolled in a nine-month wilderness certification course Alderleaf offers that started Tuesday.

“It’s good knowledge to have with all the natural disasters going on,” he said. “You don’t want to be caught with your pants down.”

The college, at 18715 299th Ave. SE, has 15 instructors. It offers two-day courses twice a year, the five-day course once a year and the nine-month certification course.

The current certification course has 40 students, the biggest Alderleaf has had, from all over the U.S. and Canada. The certification is for wilderness education and ecology, Knight said. Students can use the certification to become wilderness skills instructors, environmental field technicians and park naturalists, among other things.

Their survival classes are geared more for beginners than experienced outdoorsmen.

Luke Gentry, 30, said he knew something about being outdoors but after taking the course his knowledge “has quadrupled.”

“I feel like I have the understanding of basic survival skills,” he said. “All of which need more weeks of practice.”

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.

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