Whether you are a youth, an adult, or golden-aged, the team at Primitive Pursuits wants you to experience the Great Outdoors.
“Twelve years old or 30 years old or 40 years old, they suddenly realize what it means to be human, what it feels to live fully alive in their bodies,” said Jed Jordan of those Primitive Pursuits puts in touch with the wild.
Primitive Pursuits began in 1999 when Dave Hall of Rural Youth Services started an after-school program in Dryden to take kids into the woods. Tim Drake joined on soon after, little expecting the program would become his life’s work for the next 16 years.
From that first after-school program in Dryden, Hall, Drake and others expanded the program to schools in Danby, Enfield, Lansing, and Newfield. Jordan joined on in 2002 when his daughter became involved, and both Drake and Jordan became full-time co-directors in 2005.
In the past decade, Primitive Pursuits has expanded to a point where, Drake said, “most people around Ithaca seem to have heard of us.” During the first week of February, 187 children participated in a Primitive Pursuit program. Based at the Cornell Cooperative Extension, there are camps offered during summer, winter, and school breaks for kids; a forest preschool program; and weekend workshops for adults who want to become wilderness instructors, or just try out trapping or building snow shelters through Wilderness Skills Workshops.
Primitive Pursuits is about teaching people near-forgotten skills of outdoor survival, and “teaching them how to teach these skills,” Drake said.
One example of bringing potential teachers closer to nature is the class Drake and Jordan co-teach at Ithaca College for environmental science majors.
“There’s an entire generation of young people who want to save their environment, and yet they have no personal connection,” Jordan said. “They’ve been taught all about problems in the environment, kind of a fear-based system; kids are now so afraid of the world collapsing they want to do something about it. What is also needed is a personal connection, a kinship, with the environment.”
One original Primitive Pursuiter was Lily Glidden, who recently had a scholarship fund started in her memory. Lily started with the program in 1999 as a sixth-grader, and wrote the first grant for the program, which funded a trip to the Adirondacks.
“She pushed us in the direction of not giving up when it was not always an easy thing to do,” Jordan said. “We’d say, if Lily wants to do it, we’ll do it.”
“Lily forced us to learn more to keep up with her,” Drake said. “We want to honor her way of approaching the world and creating opportunities for another group of kids to say, “Let’s go further.’”
Primitive Pursuits hopes to spread its influence farther now that they have hired another program director, John Chilkotowsky, who will join the team in Ithaca from the Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Wash. The founder of that school, Jon Young, “revolutionized nature education,” Drake said.
Now with another co-director on board, Drake says Primitive Pursuits wants to do its part in furthering our connection with the wilds by both expanding the offerings available to local people and helping other programs launch.
“People don’t think about how much overhead a nature program like this costs,” Drake said. “Getting this off the ground took a lot of sweat equity that others might not have. We want to help speed up that process for other people.”
Drake and Jordan hope that Primitive Pursuits helps lead to “happy, healthy, helpful people” who have a “sense of cause and effect in life, with not so much unknown fear about what if.”
Not every Primitive Pursuit participant will become a seasoned trail guide. Just playing outside for a weekend “and actually seeing some of these things with their own eyes,” Drake says, can have a transforming effect on a child or adult who is only used to the modern, built-up environment.
Black bears, fishers, coyotes: Jordan says there’s lots of animal activity going on around Ithaca these days for the intrepid after-school or weekend explorer.
“Our area is becoming almost a wildlife hub.” §