Wilderness Year

Get Ready for an Unforgettable Journey

The Wilderness Year is an intensive, 9-month Skills Certification Program  with an optional 3-month summer mentor training component. Wilderness Year is an integrated hands on program facilitating deep understanding of nature connection, wilderness skills, and community.

The WILDERNESS YEAR is designed for individuals seeking to deepen their knowledge of earth skills and nature awareness in a supportive learning environment.

"Wilderness Year began as an adventure, developed into a practice, and is forming the basis for an entirely new lifestyle for me. This is truly just the beginning."
Tiffany Cheezem, Wilderness Year Participant, 2016-17

It is an immersive hands-on experience, that involves deeply exploring relationships with oneself, the earth, and community. The structure of the course allows us to meet the needs of a wide range of students, from individuals who are just out of high school to college students and recent graduates, and to older adults looking to shift their career or direction in life. The program draws from many traditions and teachings and creates a landscape for students to know themselves, each other and their connection to the natural world in an extraordinary way.

Imagine learning through wilderness-based experiences, engaging your hands, your head, and your heart for an integrated understanding of the old ways and of how relevant they are to nature connection even today. You will come away with an understanding and ability to mentor yourself through questioning, awareness, and inner tracking, and the ability to do that for those around you.

Our experienced instructors are passionate about their specialty areas, and about sharing them with others. Their skillful instruction combined with the teachings of the rich landscape of the Finger Lakes Region of New York create a unique opportunity for shifting awareness.

Join us for an experience filled with adventure, challenge, discovery and community!

Find Out More APPLY Visit

During this course participants will be learning through wilderness-based experiences, engaging their hands, head, and heart for an integrated understanding of the old ways and of how relevant they are to nature connection even today. The result is an understanding and ability to mentor oneself through questioning, awareness, and inner tracking, and the ability to do that for those around you.

2018-2019 Program Dates: September - June

Course Details

  • Schedule: Tuesday through Thursday plus extended trips during 33
    weeks between September 2017 and June, 2018
  • Facilities: 4,000 acres of forest land and multiple classrooms
  • Visiting: Schedule a visit today to experience our classes first hand
  • Tuition: $8,750 (does not include housing)
  • Enrollment: Maximum class size – 15 students
  • Scholarships: Limited Scholarships are available for those who have financial need.
  • Housing: Limited on-campus housing at the Arnot Forest surrounded by 4,200 acres of old growth woods.

Read Detailed Curriculum

WILDERNESS YEAR offers students a safe and supportive environment to immerse themselves in nature connection, primitive skills, and community building.

An emphasis is placed on finding true awareness when meeting our needs in the wilderness so we can find an ease and a comfort, both internally and externally, that could not have been achieved otherwise.

Wilderness Year Staff

During the course of the year, students will delve deeply into the following areas of study:

Skills for Wilderness Living

  • Build your physical primitive skill set learning how to meet your survival needs of shelter, water, fire and food

Naturalist Studies

  • Explore naturalist skills to know the landscape through a lens of deep awareness and connection

Community Building

  • Develop the awareness and skills to find and walk your path in helping to create a sustainable and healthy future

Personal Development

  • Develop a deep understanding of your relationship with yourself and the natural world

Read Detailed Curriculum

Justin Sutera

Lead Instructor

Justin has spent the last 9 years of his life passionately dedicated to primitive living skills and naturalist studies. It all started for him when he read The Tracker after an inspirational backpacking trip, and the day he got home picked up a roadkill deer. He spent months tanning that first hide, insisting on figuring out a better way, and failing over and over. Hide tanning led to bow making, bow making led to flintknapping, and ultimately all manner of survival and primitive living skills.

While studying Conservation Biology at S.U.N.Y College of Environmental Science and Forestry Justin started a club teaching primitive skills and got connected with the staff at Primitive Pursuits for the first time.

After college Justin studied at Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School, and was an instructor at The Children of the Earth Foundation for three years before joining Primitive Pursuits in 2012.

Wherever Justin goes he enjoys inspiring and teaching those around him. His determination and passion for primitive skills have led him towards a deep understanding and opened up doors to fantastic mentors along the way. A strong foundation in the physical skills helped lead him towards an in-depth journey into tracking and bird language.

Justin will tell you he is just a beginner at all of these skills, but that’s because he’s been following this journey towards awareness long enough to know what he doesn’t know. Constantly humbled by lessons learned from survival experiences, hunting, and time in nature, nothing excites him more than inspiring people and guiding them along this path.

Watch a short video of Justin telling how he got here:

Corinne Eisenman

Team Leader

Corinne has been following the call of the woods and streams since she was young, growing up in the old shoulders of the Appalachian Mountains of Western New York.

Corinne’s early connections to the earth formed through camping, scouting programs, and wanders in the forest. These eventually led to naturalist studies and an MS in Environmental Education.

Since then, Corinne has worked in many communities through New York and New England. She was the Staff Development Facilitator for an Environmental Education Center in the Catskills of New York, teaching forest and stream ecology as well as community building skills to staff and participants. In the Finger Lakes region of New York, Corinne has facilitated many programs for youth and adults. With Primitive Pursuits Corinne has been the point person for the homeschool program and curriculum development, as well as one of the primary instructors for Central Fire, Primitive Pursuits’ program for women.

Corinne is also a core instructor for the Wilderness Skills Intensive program for adults. Wild edibles, making fire, tracking the landscape, bird language, group facilitation, curriculum design, awareness, and healing with the landscape are a few of the things that keep her heart’s fire burning and that also keep her humble!

Sean Cornell

Guest Instructor

Sean traces his love of the outdoors to a series of moments in his childhood starting with a day when he and his friends spotted a pair of hawks circling above a hill in the southern end of Syracuse. They marveled at the hawk’s ability to keep afloat without once flapping their wings. He and his friends tracked the hawks movement for hours, so engrossed in their flight patterns they didn’t want to miss a movement.

Family outings identifying wild ramps and leeks encouraged Sean to critically notice the abundance of his natural surroundings, and made him eager to broaden his knowledge of plant identification. Sean attended the Tracker School at 18, followed by a Bachelor's of Science in conservation biology at The College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. With this background of interests, Sean pursued his fascination with outdoor education, and primitive skills through books and videos, teaching himself bow carving, and tracking.

Sean’s number one interest is archery and bow-making. Sean finds that the process of bow-making allows students to connect more deeply and fully to the materials and their surrounding environment.

“If you struggle with a skill for a while, you invest a lot of emotion...and at some point you start to love the materials for their own sake.”

He deeply believes that the process and practice of creating your own tools; choosing, carving, and shaping the wood creates a deep love for the tree, and the environment that nurtured the tree. Each object created by an individual, with materials they harvested, and hours of their own time spent crafting, are an personal interpretation of themselves and the natural materials they are using.

Sean has been an instructor at Primitive Pursuits for a number of years. During academic terms he is a regular with our homeschool, preschool, and adult programs. During summer camps he can generally be found at our specialty camps, guiding a knife over wood during Bow-making, or helping students learn proper form in Forest Archer.

Sean lives in Ithaca with his wife and daughter and continues to share his love of carving and wilderness education with everyone around him.

Jed Jordan

Founding Member

Jed is an Environmental Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development and a co-founder and senior administrator for Primitive Pursuits. He picked up his first Tom Brown Jr. book at age 10 in the woods of southern New Hampshire, and never stopped pursuing his passion to live closer to the earth. After studying at UC Santa Barbara and Prescott College, he completed his higher education by traveling the mountains, forests, deserts, swamps and highways of the lower 48. He finally settled in Ithaca to wait out the last millennium, as an outdoor educator, in the familiar Appalachian forest of his younger years. Now, with three children of his own, he is most inspired by the incredible minds and hearts of all the kids he gets to watch grow up in the natural world. He also currently teaches Environmental Sentinels at Ithaca College with Tim Drake and Jason Hamilton.

Danielle Prizzi

Field Staff

Danielle Prizzi is a plant loving enthusiast, who spends much of her time studying and practicing herbal medicine, wild foraging, and farming. She lives in constant wonder, gratitude and presence with the natural world. Formally, she graduated from Ithaca College with her education being focused on integrating alternative medicine and healing, sustainable living, and plant studies to begin to understand the human-nature innate connection. Since college, she's spent her time apprenticing with herbalists, primitive skills enthusiasts, naturalists, and healers -- specifically Tammi Sweet and Kris Miller at Heartstone Herbalism school, Rosemary Gladstar, and Aviva Romm. When she isn’t out in the woods, she nestles in the deep woods of Connecticut Hill working to establish an off-the-grid homestead and a medicinal herb farm.

Bob Berg

Guest Instructor

Bob owns and operates Thunderbird Atlatl, the world’s foremost atlatl (spear-thrower) manufacturer. Founded in 1990, Thunderbird developed from a hobby into a full-time business, and is now known worldwide as the premiere manufacturer of atlatls, darts and accessories.

Born in Hilo Hawaii, Bob spent most of his childhood on a farm in Apalachin, New York where his family raised beef cattle on the half square mile farm. Bob has been interested in all things primitive for the greater part of his adult life. He is skilled in many of the primitive arts and enjoys passing his knowledge on. Bob enjoys a few hobbies both in and outside the atlatl business, among them spear fishing, atlatl hunting, oil painting, and inventing mechanical devices designed to save the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

Why does Primitive Pursuits offer the WILDERNESS YEAR?

The WILDERNESS YEAR came about to provide a container for adults looking to immerse themselves in primitive skills, nature connection, and community. Part of the Primitive Pursuits vision is to guide people towards shifting their awareness and relationship to themselves, the earth, and community. This program truly accomplishes those goals for adults.

Compared to our other adult offerings this program allows for complete immersion, and the ability to include students from a wider geographic range. It also allows for the diverse skill set of our staff to be more fully utilized and experienced.

Curriculum and Academics

Is there an academic component?

Yes, we will maintain records of evaluation from staff as well as personal evaluation on how students are working with the subject matter and meeting their learning goals.

If students are looking to receive college credit it is up to them to set that up with their college or university. If you ask us for a more detailed description of our curriculum we can provide that for you to aid in the process of getting credits approved.

Will I be able to take this program and then go live off in the woods by myself?

Though the skills we teach are those that would help you meet your survival needs in the woods, the intention is not to do it alone. A huge component of what we do throughout your 9 months is building a strong community. With this as the platform it allows us to dive even deeper into the skills of primitive living, naturalist studies, and awareness. With everything we do we aim to do it through connection. While personal alone time in the woods is very important, living alone in the woods is not what our intention is. Will this training help me to start my own wilderness survival school?

Eligibility Requirements

Who can apply for WILDERNESS YEAR?

All adults 18 and over may apply for WILDERNESS YEAR. There is no prerequisite of knowledge or experience in order to apply.

What kind of training do I need before coming?​​

There is no required training before coming. We simply ask that you bring your enthusiasm and willingness to try new things when you come for the program.

Do I have to be working towards a degree or enrolled in a college or university?

No, many adults come for the experience of connecting with the earth, themselves, and community. Our curriculum is designed to create life changing experiences for everyone, whether enrolled in college or not.

Do I need to have previously taken courses from Primitive Pursuits?

You do not need to have previously taken courses from Primitive Pursuits. However other courses we offer such as our Wilderness Weekends and Wilderness Skills Intensive are less of a time commitment and can provide you with an experience of our teaching and culture. We also offer visitation days where you may visit one of our programs and this can help in deciding if the WILDERNESS YEAR is right for you.

Application Process

What is the application process and time-line?
  • Applications for the 2017-2018 school year are now open!
  • To apply, please fill out the on-line application.
  • To receive an application packet by mail please fill out the contact form on this page.
  • Upon acceptance to the program you will be given one month to pay a deposit of $1500 to reserve your space in the course. After you are officially enrolled the balance of the first semester’s tuition is due 60 days before class begins.

Program Logistics

Will I be able to work and do the program at the same time? Is there work available in the area?

There is definitely the time to take on part-time employment during the program. Tompkins County has many opportunities to work at places like GreenStar Co-op and local coffee shops to surrounding farms in the area. Get in touch if you would like some resources to help with your job search.

Where is the course located?

The base camp for the course is at Primitive Pursuits’ campus within the 4,200 acre Arnot Forest in Van Etten, NY. The course also takes field trips to other local state and national forests, as well as Cornell Plantation areas and land overseen by the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

What is a typical day of class like?

A typical day of class meets from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. We always start with a circle, sharing stories to ground us and connect us for the day. We will meet outside, exploring and learning from the landscape for at least part of the day. Each day looks differently depending on what we are learning. If we are focused on a craft like hide tanning, much of our day could be spent around a central camp working skills. Or we might be learning tree id, and exploring the landscape with an eye out for bow wood. No matter what, each day includes games, songs, stories, challenges, and lessons to deepen our knowledge of place and draw us deeper into our awareness.

Read Detailed Curriculum

Second-Year Options and Career Opportunities

What opportunities are there for those who complete WILDERNESS YEAR?

For graduates of the Wilderness Year we offer a Wilderness Skills Leadership Certification where students come back to be part of the course and hold a mentoring role for the students. It is for students willing to step further into what it means to facilitate and teach these skills, and guide students along this journey. Click Here for more information.


Can I receive college credit for WILDERNESS YEAR?

Currently it is up to the student to make arrangements with their college or university to receive college credit. We have had students receive internship and independent study credit from our adult intensives, and are happy to provide students with a detailed curriculum to help with the accreditation process.

What kind of certification will I receive? How will this help me find a job?

Upon completion of the Wilderness Year Students will receive a Certificate of completion in Wilderness Skills from Cornell Cooperative Extension for the 680 total hours of instruction. We hold our students to a high level of competency for the core skills that we teach. The Wilderness Skills Certification is meant to honor each student’s commitment, and also serve as a reference point as our students go off to be a part of other Nature Connection schools or to start their own.

Many graduates of our 150-hour Wilderness Skills Intensive have gone on to become instructors and leaders using the skills they learned to creative positive change in their local communities. Some have started their own programs, and others have come to work with Primitive Pursuits in the summer or throughout the year. We believe our training is something that will both help you find employment if that is your goal, and will also serve you in many other areas of your life.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Is there Financial Aid for WILDERNESS YEAR?

Limited scholarships are available for those who have financial need. Scholarships will not be awarded until after March 2017. Please be in touch for a scholarship application.

How much does WILDERNESS YEAR cost?

Tuition for the Wilderness Year is $8,750 and does not include housing. Upon acceptance to the course a deposit of $1500 is required to hold your space.

Need a trail guide?

We’re happy to help you navigate. Give us a call at the office (607) 272-2292 ext. 195 or use the link below

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